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SOWING An Autobiography of the Years 1880 to 1904 

Also by Leonard VVoolf: after the deluge, volumes i and 2 




THE YEARS 1880 TO 1904 


© i960 by Leonard Woolf. All rights reserved. No part of this 
book may be reproduced in any form or by any mechanical 
means, including mimeograph and tape recorder, without per- 
mission in writing from the publisher. First American edition. 
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-12726. Printed 
in the United States of America 




Amico meo mihi 
R. I. P. 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS IVIembers and Sloan Foundation 


Chapter One 

page 75 

Chapter Two 

page loy 

page 221 


(Between pages i6o and i6i) 

Leonard Woolf as a schoolboy 

The de Jonghs, the author's maternal grandparents, on their 
wedding day and on their golden wedding day 

Sidney Woolf, Q.C., the author's father; and Marie Woolf, the 
author's mother, in the dress in which she was "presented" 

The Woolf family in 1886; Leonard Woolf on extreme right, 
front row 

Thohy Stephen, about ipo2 

G. E. Moore 

The Shakespeare Society, Trinity College, Cambridge. Back 
row: Thoby Stephen, second from left; Walter Lamb, later 
Secretary to the Royal Academy, extreme right. Front row: 
Lytton Strachey, extreme left; R. K. Gaye, second from right; 
Leonard Woolf, extreme right 

Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes 

Leslie Stephen and his daughter Virginia 

Virginia Stephen, about ipo2 

Vanessa Stephen, about ipo2 


very rarely think either of my past or my future, but 
the moment that one contemplates writing an auto- 
biography—and I am sitting down with that inten- 
tion today— one is forced to regard oneself as an en- 
tity carried along for a brief period in the stream of 
time, emerging suddenly at a particular moment from 
darkness and nothingness and shortly to disappear at 
a particular moment into nothingness and darkness. 
The moment at which officially I emerged from noth- 
ingness was the early morning of November 25th, 
1880, though in fact I did not personally become aware 
of my existence until some two or three years later. In 
the interval between 1880 and today I have lived my 
life on the assumption that sooner or later I shall pass 
by annihilation into the same state of nothingness 
from which I suddenly emerged that winter morning 
in West Cromwell Road, Kensington, so many years 
ago. This passage from non-existence to non-existence 
seems to me a strange and, on the whole, an enjoy- 
able experience. Since the age of sixteen, when for a 
short time, like all intelligent adolescents, I took the 
universe too seriously, I have rarely worried myself 
about its meaning or meaninglessness. But I resent 


14 • Sowing 

the fact that, as seems to be practically certain, I shall 
be as non-existent after my death as I was before my 
birth. Nothing can be done about it and I cannot 
truthfully say that my future extinction causes me 
much fear or pain, but I should like to record my 
protest against it and against the universe which en- 
acts it. 

The adulation of the Deity as creator of the uni- 
verse in Jewish and Christian psalms and hymns, and 
indeed by most religions, seems to me ridiculous. No 
doubt in the course of millions of millions of years, 
he has contrived to create some good things. I agree 
that "my heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in 
the sky," or "the golden daffodils, beside the lake, be- 
neath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze," 
or "the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky 
Way." I admit that every now and again I am amazed 
and profoundly moved by the beauty and affection of 
my cat and my dog. But at what a cost of senseless pain 
and misery, of wasteful and prodigal cruelty, does he 
manage to produce a daffodil, a Siamese cat, a sheep- 
dog, a housefly, or a sardine. I resent the wasteful stu- 
pidity of a system which tolerates the spawning her- 
ring or the seeding groundsel or the statistics of in- 
fantile mortality wherever God has not been civilized 
by man. And I resent the stupid wastefulness of a 
system which requires that human beings with great 
labour and pain should spend years in acquiring 
knowledge, experience, and skill, and then just when 
at last they might use all this in the service of man- 
kind and for their own happiness, they lose their 
teeth and their hair and their wits, and are hurriedly 

Childhood • 75 

bundled, together with all that they have learnt, into 
the grave and nothingness. 

It is clear that, if there is a purpose in the universe 
and a Creator, both are unintelligible to us. But that 
does not provide them with an excuse or a defence. 
However, as I said, nothing can be done about it, and 
having made my protest, I must now think about my 
past. When I do think of my past and of the genes 
and chromosomes of my ancestors, for they after all 
are a highly important part of my past, I am a little 
surprised to see where they have landed me. I write 
this looking out of a window uf>on a garden in Sus- 
sex. I feel that my roots are here and in the Greece of 
Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, and Pericles. I 
have always felt in my bones and brain and heart 
English and, more narrowly, a Londoner, but with a 
nostalgic love of the city and civilization of ancient 
Athens. Yet my genes and chromosomes are neither 
Anglo-Saxon nor Ionian. When my Rodmell neigh- 
bours' forefathers were herding swine on the plains 
of eastern Europe and the Athenians were building 
the Acropolis, my Semitic ancestors, with the days of 
their national greatness, such as it was, already be- 
hind them, were in Persia or Palestine. And they 
were already prisoners of war, displaced persons, ref- 
ugees, having begun that unending pilgrimage as the 
world's official fugitives and scapegoats which has 
brought one of their descendants to live, and prob- 
ably die. Parish Clerk of Rodmell in the County of 

For my father's father was a Jew, born in London 
in the year 1808. His name was Benjamin Woolf and 

1 6 • Sowing 

he died in 1870 at the age of sixty-two in Clifton Gar- 
dens, Maida Vale. On his death certificate his occupa- 
tion is given as "gentleman," but he was in fact by 
occupation a tailor who had done extremely well in 
his trade.* The first record of him and his business is 
found in the London directory of 1835, in which he 
appears as Benjamin Woolf, Tailor, 87 Quadrant, 
Regent Street. Sixteen years later he opened a second 
shop in Piccadilly, and four years later a third shop in 
Old Bond Street. He is described sometimes as "tailor 
and outfitter," and sometimes as "tailor, outfitter, 
and portable furniture warehouse," and in his shop 
at 48 Piccadilly as "waterproofer." He had seven sons 
and three daughters, and it is curious that three of 
the children married into the de Jongh family (my 
mother's family) and two of them married sisters, 
Louisa and Sarah Davis of Glasgow. His will is a 
formidable document covering many pages and he 
leaves considerable property, but with the proviso 
that none of it is to pass to any of his children if they 
marry out of the Jewish faith. 

There still exist in London some tailor shops with 
WOOLF BROTHERS ovcr the window— there used to be 
one in Holborn until Hitler dropped his bombs on it 
—and I used to think that perhaps they were the re- 
mains of my grandfather's businessf which might 
well have made me a very rich man. It didn't, be- 

* I owe nearly all the accurate facts about my grandparents to my 
nephew, Cecil Woolf, who did a good deal of research into our 

t This is probably mere fantasy, but it is just possible because 
1879 is the last directory to contain an entry for Benjamin Woolf 
and 1879 the first to contain an entry for Woolf Brothers. 

Childhood • ly 

cause, although my grandfather lived in a large house 
in Bloomsbury— I was once told that it was in Tavis- 
tock Square, but it may have been in Bedford Square 
—and had his seven sons, none of his sons went into 
the business. Like so many Jews of his class, he had an 
inordinate admiration for education and he educated 
his sons out of their class. I never knew any of my 
paternal uncles, but I doubt whether any of them 
benefited very much from their education, unless one 
can count one of them a success, for he certainly was, 
by all accounts, an extremely brilliant and amusing 

Two vast oil paintings of my paternal grandpar- 
ents hung, during my childhood, on the wall of our 
dining-room, together with what was always referred 
to as **the little Morland" and a large pastoral scene, 
with sheep and goats, ascribed to Tenier. They— my 
grandparents— died before I was born, but their por- 
traits which loomed so large over so many meals have 
indelibly impressed upon my mind their features and 
characters. I remember him as a large, stern, black- 
haired, and black-whiskered, rabbinical Jew in a frock 
coat, his left hand pompously tucked into his waist- 
coat, while she, who was born Isabella Phillips in 
1808 and died in 1878 at the age of seventy, was the 
exact opposite, pretty, round-cheeked, mild, and for- 
giving. Yes, it was all, no doubt, as it should be— the 
male forbidding and the female forgiving. She prob- 
ably had a good deal to forgive, certainly from her 
children, all of whom, with the exception of my 
father and one of my aunts, must have been pretty 
tough people. The look of stern rabbinical orthodoxy 

i8 • Sowing 

in my grandfather's face was, I think, no illusion, for 
traditionally his family was just like that. His mother, 
my great-grandmother, we were told, used to walk to 
synagogue with hard peas in her boots in the evening 
of every Day of Atonement until she was well over 
seventy, and she stood upright on the peas in her 
place in the synagogue for twenty-four hours without 
sitting down until sunset of the following day, fasting 
of course the whole time. That in the Woolf family 
about the year 1820 was considered to be the proper 
way to atone for your sins. I feel a faint sneaking 
agreement with my great-grandmother, or, rather, I 
would if I had ever had a sense of sin. I presume that 
my unconscious is the usual cesspool of sadistic and 
masochistic guilt revealed by psycho-analysis, but I 
have never been able to detect in myself, even in 
childhood, a conscious sense of sin. But if there has to 
be this abominable doctrine of guilt and atonement, 
then I would approve of my great-grandmother's 
habit of doing the thing thoroughly. 

My mother's family had none of the toughness and 
sternness of the Woolfs. The de Jonghs— her maiden 
name was de Jongh— were all of them rather soft. My 
mother was born in Holland of Jewish parents in 
Amsterdam. Her father was a diamond merchant, 
and the whole family migrated to London when she 
was still a child. I do not know why they migrated,* 
continuing the unending pilgrimage which, as I said, 

* My sister thinks that my grandfather often had to visit London 
and Paris on business, and that he liked London so much better 
than Amsterdam that he decided to transfer himself, his wife, and 
his ten children to England. 

Childhood • ip 

began in Palestine and Persia about 2,500 years ago. 
They must have been pretty prosperous, for the pil- 
grimage landed them in Woburn Lodge, that very 
pleasant kind of country house which, until just be- 
fore the 1939 war, survived at the top of Tavistock 
Square beneath the caryatids of St. Pancras Church. 
Thus my maternal and paternal grandparents, my 
father, my mother, and I myself all lived in or practi- 
cally in Tavistock Square. When my mother first 
went, as a child, to live in Woburn Lodge, in the 
road just outside was a turnpike which was only 
opened to residents in the Square by a ducal retainer 
who sat in a kind of summerhouse next to it. That 
must have been, I suppose, in the i86o's. When I 
went to live at No. 52 Tavistock Square in 1925, the 
turnpike and the Duke of Bedford's retainer had 
gone, but the Square had not changed much other- 
wise since my mother's childhood. When she was 
over eighty, I walked with her one day across the 
Square to Woburn Lodge, which was then empty, 
and she stood in the melancholy little garden looking 
into the deserted rooms, which, she said, were exactly 
the same as they were when she was a young girl. But 
we were even then standing at the beginning of the 
end. For, a year or two later, they pulled down the 
north side of the Square and built up a very high 
and, architecturally, absurd building; and then, later 
still, in 1940 came the bombs which destroyed nearly 
all the south side, including No. 52, ^vhich, though 
we had moved to Mecklenburgh Square, we still had 
on lease from the Bedford Estate. 

My mother's parents had ten children, most of 

20 • Sowing 

them not only soft, but rather feckless, and they 
drained away most of my grandfather's prosperity by 
the time that I knew him. I knew both my maternal 
grandparents, as they lived to be nearly ninety. 
There was, in fact, something antediluvian about the 
de Jonghs, or at least they seemed to belong to a dif- 
ferent century from ours. It was characteristic of 
them that my mother's nurse used to describe vividly 
to her the Napoleonic Wars and how the French sol- 
diers marched into the Dutch village where she lived 
as a young woman and were quartered on her par- 
ents. My grandparents, when I knew them, lived in a 
small house in Addison Gardens, and once a week we 
as children used to walk with my mother or with 
nurses or later with a governess from Lexham Gar- 
dens to Addison Gardens to have tea with them. 

It was the cleanest house and they were the clean- 
est people I have ever seen anywhere. My grand- 
mother was always sitting by the window of the front 
ground-floor room in a black ebony chair which had 
an immensely high straight back rising several feet 
above her head. She never, so far as I know, stopped 
knitting, the needles going faster than I have ever 
seen in the hands of any other knitter. A large black 
cap was on the whitest hair, and beneath it was the 
round, pink face of an incredibly old Dutch doll. 
When she came to see us, the black cap was brought 
in a special basket made for the purpose. She was the 
kindest and roundest of women, and, though she 
never, I think, had read a book or had suffered from 
an abstract idea or had experienced the grinding of 
the intellect— which for most people is as unpleasant 

Childhood • 21 

as the dentist's drill— somehow or other she seemed to 
have learnt to defeat fate. She was born round about 
1800 in Groningen, a provincial town in the north- 
east of Holland, and in 1890 she sat in the window be- 
hind the lace curtains in Addison Gardens, having 
borne ten children and welcomed thirty grandchil- 
dren and having moved, imperturbable, from Gron- 
ingen to the Hague and Amsterdam and thence to 
Woburn Lodge and Addison Gardens, passing on her 
way the whole of the nineteenth century. 

Here is a curious example of a family tradition 
which must have had absolutely no foundation in 
fact: my grandmother's maiden name was Van Coe- 
verden, and the family tradition was that it was one 
of her ancestors who in the eighteenth century dis- 
covered and gave his name to Vancouver Island. In 
fact the island was named in 1794 after an English- 
man, George Vancouver, a captain in the British 
navy who first went to sea at the age of thirteen in the 
Resolution, the ship commanded by the great Cap- 
tain Cook. It is, however, possible that she had a good 
deal of non-Jewish blood in her ancestry. Some of her 
children and gTandchildren were fair-haired and fa- 
cially very unlike the "typical" Jew. She had a very 
nice, small, eighteenth-century, black-and-^vhite por- 
trait of one of her male ancestors and he looked com- 
pletely non-Jewish; the curious thing is that one of 
my brothers, who had fair hair, was so exactly like 
him that at first sight the picture seemed to be a 
portrait of him in eighteenth-century fancy-dress. 

I am not one of Rousseau's latter-day disciples who 
believe in the nobility of the noble savage and in the 

22 • Sowing 

wisdom of peasants, children, and imbeciles. From 
the ignorant I expect and I get ignorance and from 
the stupid, stupidity. But there are people— usually in 
my experience dogs or old women— extremely simple 
and unintellectual who instinctively know how to 
deal with life and with persons, and who display an 
extraordinary and admirable resistance to the cruel- 
ties of man, the malevolence of Providence, and the 
miseries of existence. My grandmother, sitting so up- 
right in her ebony chair behind the white lace cur- 
tains, unconquered by the nineteenth century and 
her ten children, was one of them; she defied fate 
even in Addison Gardens. She died at the age of 

My grandfather was a very different type of person. 
He was a tall, gentle, rather silent man with a long 
white beard. No one could have mistaken him for 
anything but a Jew. Although he wore coats and 
trousers, hats and umbrellas, just like those of all the 
other gentlemen in Addison Gardens, he looked to 
me as if he might have stepped straight out of one of 
those old pictures of caftaned, bearded Jews in a 
ghetto, straight-backed, dignified, sad, resigned, ex- 
pecting and getting over two or three millennia noth- 
ing but misery from the malignancy of fate and the 
cruelty of man, and yet retaining somewhere in the 
small of their backs or the cockles of their hearts a 
fragment of spiritual steel, a particle of passive and 
unconquerable resistance. In the house my grand- 
father always wore a brightly-coloured smoking cap, 
and I never saw him without a book and a cigar. I 
daresay that he too cherished in the small of his back 

Childhood • 23 

and the cockles of his heart that particle of steel 
which alone enabled him to walk so upright and 
alone can account for his survival, but I must admit 
that I never saw any evidence of it. Life and ten chil- 
dren and the nineteenth century seemed to have 
been too much for him, and, instead of defying, he 
had just yielded in silent melancholy to his fate. And 
at eighty-one he was knocked down and killed in 
Walham Green by a horse-drawn omnibus. 

The first experience of the misery of disgracing 
myself, so far as I can remember, came to me in my 
grandparents' house in Addison Gardens. The chairs 
and sofa in the sitting-room were covered in shining 
black horsehair. To sit on them in knickerbockers 
and stockings was, for a child of four or five years old, 
torture, for the stiff black hairs pricked you unmerci- 
fully on the bottom and behind the knees whenever 
you moved. I must have been about that age when 
one warm day the irritation in the lower half of my 
body, as I wriggled about in agony on the sofa, was 
too much for me and I had a violent impulse to cry 
and to make water at the same time. Unfortunately I 
fought heroically against both impulses until it was 
too late. The waters burst from me in two places 
simultaneously, pouring down my cheeks and my 
legs, and the old servant had to take me into the 
kitchen, where I sat ignominiously wrapped in a 
blanket while my knickers and stockings were washed 
and dried. 

I suppose some people would say that in this story, 
in this "misery of disgracing oneself," I have dis- 
proved what I said above, namely that I cannot re- 

24 ' Sowing 

member ever having had a sense of sin. Isn't that feel- 
ing of disgrace the sense of sin? I would myself say 
no, and the distinction is, I believe, of immense im- 
portance in the psychology of the child and of the 
man or woman who grows out of the child. My father 
was a believing, but not an orthodox, Jew. He was a 
liberal Jew and a member of what was called the Re- 
formed Synagogue. Jews of his generation and out- 
look were not much concerned with sin. They and 
their children escaped the psychological impact of 
crucifixion and redemption, of heaven and hell. It is 
true that there was the yearly Day of Atonement, but 
oddly enough my parents, unlike my great-grand- 
mother, never seemed to connect it in any way with 
their or our sins. At any rate, I don't think I ever 
heard the word "sin" mentioned in our house; we 
were never beaten and hardly ever punished. Some 
things were, of course, wrong and some so terribly 
wrong it was inconceivable that any small Woolf 
would do them. We were, like all children, "naughty," 
particularly if we quarrelled or fought or did not eat 
up what was put on our plates at breakfast or lunch. 
The standard of behaviour, what was expected of a 
"little gentleman" or a "little lady" by nurses and 
governesses in the i88o's in Lexham Gardens, was 
pretty high. But both my parents were cheerful and 
kindly and good-natured and took an extraordinarily 
optimistic view of God and his ordering of the uni- 
verse. In consequence, we were, as I remember it, ex- 
tremely good children, yet not subjected to a per- 
petual stream of "Don't do this" or "Don't do that," 
and so with little, if any, sense of sin: indeed, until I 

Childhood • 25 

went to school about the age of ten I was scarcely 
aware intellectually of the existence and importance 
of sin. To retain this innocence at St. Paul's Prepara- 
tory School or later at the private school in Brighton 
to which I went for two years was, of course, impos- 
sible, and I soon had an encyclopaedic knowledge of 
wickedness in man, woman, and child, both from the 
schoolmaster's point of view and that of the dirty and 
dirty-minded little boy. But by that time, I think, I 
had become inoculated against any feeling of per- 
sonal guilt, for, though I often did things which I 
knew were considered to be wrong, I cannot remem- 
ber ever to have felt myself to be a sinner. 

This looking back at oneself through middle age, 
youth, childhood, infancy is a curious and puzzling 
business. Some of the things which one seems to re- 
member from far, far back in infancy are not, I 
think, really remembered; they are family tales told 
so often about one that eventually one has the illu- 
sion of remembering them. Such I believe to be the 
story of how as an infant I fell into a stream near 
Oban, which I heard so often that eventually it be- 
came part of my memory. What genuine glimpses 
one does get of oneself in very early childhood seem 
to show that the main outlines of one's character are 
moulded in infancy and do not change between the 
ages of three and eighty-three. I am sure that my atti- 
tude to sin was the same when I lay in my pram as it 
is today when I sit tapping this out on the typewriter 
and, unless I become senile, will be the same when I 
lie on my deathbed. And in other ways when I can 
genuinely remember something of myself far off and 

26 • Sowing 

long ago, I can recognize that self as essentially myself 
with the same little core of character exactly the same 
as exists in me today. I think that the first things 
which I can genuinely remember are connected with 
an illness which I had when I was about three. It was a 
very severe attack of scarlet fever which also affected 
my kidneys, and in those days scarlet fever was a dan- 
gerous disease. I can remember incidents connected 
with the illness and I think they are genuine memories; 
they are so vivid that I can visualize them and myself 
in them. 

The first is of a man coming into the room and ap- 
plying leeches to my back. I insisted upon seeing the 
leeches and was fascinated by them. Twenty-five 
years later, one day in Ceylon during the rainy sea- 
son, I was pushing my way through thick, wet grass 
in the jungle. I was wearing shorts and suddenly 
looking down I saw that my two bare knees were 
black with leeches. And suddenly I was back, a small 
boy of three, lying in bed in the bedroom high up in 
the Lexham Gardens house with the kindly man 
rather reluctantly showing me the leeches. I doubt 
whether in the intervening twenty-five years I had 
ever recalled the man with the leeches, but there in a 
flash the scene and the man and the leeches and my 
feelings were as vivid to me as the leeches on my 
knees, the gun in my hand, and the enveloping si- 
lence of the jungle. 

When I look into the depths of my own mind (or 
should one say soul?), one of the characteristics which 
seems to me deepest and most persistent is a kind of 
fatalistic and half-amused resignation. I never worry, 

Childhood • 27 

because I am saved by the feeling that in the end 
nothing matters, and I can watch with amusement 
and detachment the cruel, often undeserved but ex- 
pected, blows which fate rains upon me. In another 
incident of my scarlet fever, which I think I do genu- 
inely remember myself (though it became a family 
story), I seem to see this streak in my character al- 
ready formed in the three-year-old child. At one mo- 
ment my illness took a turn for the worse and I was, 
so it was said, upon the point of death. They called 
in Sir William Jenner, the Queen's doctor and a de- 
scendant of the Jenner who invented inoculation. He 
was a kindly man and I was fascinated by the shape 
of his nose. He prescribed a draught of the most ap- 
palling taste. I drank it down, but on his second visit 
—presumably next day— I sat up in bed with a second 
dose in the glass in my hand, unable to drink it de- 
spite all the urging of my mother and Sir William. At 
last I said to them— according to my mother, with 
considerable severity— "If you will all go out of the 
room, I will drink it." I do not really remember that, 
but I do vividly remember the sequel. I remember 
sitting up in bed alone and the resignation with 
which I drank the filthy stuff, and the doctor and my 
mother coming back into the room and praising me. 
Sir William sat down on my bed and said that I had 
been so good that I would be given what I wanted. 
What did I want? "A pigeon pie," I said, "with the 
legs sticking out." "You cannot," he explained and 
his explanation was not unexpected by me, "be given 
a pigeon pie with the legs sticking out just yet, but 
you will be given one as soon as your are quite well. 

28 • Sowing 

But isn't there something— not to eat— which you 
would like now?" I remember looking carefully into 
his kindly old face and saying: "I should like to pull 
your nose." He said that I might, and gently, not dis- 
respectfully, but as a kind of symbol or token, serious 
but also, I believe, deep down amused, I pulled Sir 
William Jenner's nose. 

But I must return to my father, Sidney Woolf.* 
He was sent by his father to University College 
School and afterwards, I think, to Kings College, 
London, or to University College in Cower Street. 
He was extremely intelligent and had a quick, power- 
ful mind, so that he did very well at school. One of 
his elder brothers had become a solicitor and for a 
time my father joined him, but he had always deter- 
mined to become a barrister. After some years as a 
solicitor, he was called to the bar. He was a first-rate 
lawyer and almost immediately successful; at the age 
of forty, as a Q. C, he made, I believe, over £5,000 a 
year. He was born at No. 87 Quadrant, Regent 
Street, in 1844, married my mother in 1875, begat on 
her ten children, and died in 1892 after a few weeks' 
illness, at the age of forty-seven. I presume that, like 
every male, I was in love with my mother and hated 
my father, but I can find no trace of either the love 
or the hate in my memories, or indeed in my uncon- 
scious when, as occasionally happens, the id intrudes 
upon my ego. I was eleven when my father died. I 
admired him greatly and certainly thought that I was 
fond of him, and I think that he was both fond and 

♦ His name on his birth certificate is Solomon Rees Sydney 
Woolf, but he was always known as Sidney Woolf. 

Childhood • 2p 

proud of me, because as a small boy I was intelligent, 
reserved, and had a violent temper, and so in fact re- 
sembled him. He was certainly intelligent, reserved, 
and quick-tempered, but also very nervous and highly 
strung, and, though normally very kind, more intol- 
erant of fools and their folly than almost any other 
man whom I have known. Though not an orthodox 
Jew, his ethical code of conduct was terrific, but he 
was not, in my recollection of him, either passion- 
ately on the side of righteousness or violently against 
sin. He must have been, I think, one of those rare 
people whose code of personal conduct is terrific, but 
whose morality is instinctive, springing from a deli- 
cacy or nicety of taste or aesthetic sensibility. This 
would explain why he was able unexpectedly to do 
without a sense of sin or the desire to punish sinners. 
He once said that in his opinion a perfect and com- 
plete rule of conduct for a man's life had, once and 
for all, been laid down by the prophet Micah in the 
words: ''What doth the Lord require of thee, but to 
do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly 
with thy God?" The words were inscribed on his 
tombstone in the grim and grimy cemetery in the 
Balls Pond Road. 

I can remember the first time that I felt close to my 
father in a grown-up way. I was only six years old, 
and I know that that was the case because it Avas the 
summer of the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, and 
as my father had a very long important case— I think 
it must have been an arbitration case— during the va- 
cation, we had to take a house near London for our 
summer holidays so that he could get up and down to 

50 • Sowing 

town easily. The house was at Kenley. When the rest 
o£ the family went off to Kenley, he had to stay on 
two nights in London, and for some reason I was 
chosen to stay on with him in Lexham Gardens. I felt 
terribly proud and important, particularly walking 
up Lexham Gardens by myself to the mews at the far 
end near Cornwall Gardens to tell Dennis, the coach- 
man, what time the brougham would be wanted. We 
drove to the Temple and then walked across Lin- 
coln's Inn Fields to a large room where the case was 
tried. It too must have been an arbitration case, for 
we all sat round a long table and I sat on a chair next 
to my father. Mr. Bigham, who afterwards became a 
judge and Lord Mersey, was counsel on the opposite 
side, and there were heated arguments between him 
and my father. I thought him to be very rude and a 
most unpleasant man, and I was amazed when we 
adjourned for lunch and Mr. Bigham patted me on 
the head and we went off and lunched with him at 
the Rainbow Tavern, and my father and he were the 
best of friends. Later on in the afternoon they were 
at each other again hammer and tongues. Mr. Roper, 
my father's clerk, who seemed to be always arriving 
with a large red silk bag containing briefs, was very 
solicitous for my comfort. He must have been almost 
if not quite an albino, with the palest yellow hair and 
weak blinking eyes, and when one day, having come 
down with the red silk bag to a house in the country 
during one summer holidays, he was given tea, he 
amazed us by taking jam with his cake. Years after- 
wards someone might say: "Do you remember Mr. 
Roper eating strawberry jam with plum cake?" and 

Childhood • 5/ 

heads were shaken over the aberration. The case 
went on for many hours and then in the evening we 
were driven back to Lexham Gardens and I sat up for 
dinner with my father. And next day, he drove us 
down to Kenley with its downs and white dusty road 
in a phaeton through Croydon and Purley. 

My father worked so hard and so continually that 
we saw less of him than we and, I think, he would 
have liked. It was always exciting to be with him, for 
he was extremely quick and lively in mind and body 
—when he was made a Q. C, one of the legal papers 
described him as having ''an eager and a nipping 
air." His energy was once almost the death of me. It 
was on my seventh or eighth birthday that he gave 
me a tricycle— it was the days before the "safety" 
bicycle was invented, and he and my elder brother, 
Herbert, already each had their tricycle. On Sunday 
we all three set off together on our tricycles from 
Lexham Gardens, along the Hammersmith Road, 
across the bridge to Barnes Common, to Sheen and 
Richmond Park. In those days after the Castlenau 
Road you were practically in the country. It seems to 
me that it was a pretty long ride for a child of seven 
or eight who had not often been on a tricycle before. 
But, as it was afterwards discovered, there was some- 
thing wrong in the bottom bracket of my new tri- 
cycle and I had simply to pound along using a good 
deal of force to make the beastly thing go at all. I can 
still remember the agony of grinding along the Sheen 
Road on the way back, the pain of exhaustion made 
worse by the disappointment in the present which I 
had so eagerly looked forward to. I managed to con- 

52 • Sowing 

ceal my condition from father and Herbert, but 
when we got back to Lexham Gardens, we were met 
at the door by my mother, anxious to know how we 
had enjoyed ourselves. She raised a cry of consterna- 
tion when she saw me stagger into the hall. It became 
a tale in the family saga, and she always said that, 
when she first saw me on the doorstep, my face was 
absolutely white except for the nose, which was a 
flaming red. In the hall I collapsed and was carried 
away and put to bed. 

My father's intellectual intolerance seemed to be 
roughly proportionate to his ethical tolerance. If a 
fool was anywhere in his neighbourhood, he tended 
to forget any idea of mercy or of walking humbly 
with or without his God. A stupid or silly remark 
would drive him frantic, and he showed little mercy 
to any man, woman, or child who made one. His iras- 
cibility when confronted by obstinate stupidity, at 
one time regularly every Sunday at lunch, produced 
a remarkable and to some a terrifying scene. Person- 
ally I looked forward to these scenes with astonish- 
ment, alarm, and at the same time a certain enjoy- 
ment. The culprit and victim was a cousin, the 
orphaned son of one of my father's sisters. In the i88o's 
a Victorian lunch in a Victorian family like the 
Woolfs was a formidable, but not altogether un- 
pleasant, ritual. It was eminently bourgeois, patri- 
archal, and a weekly apotheosis of the family. The 
change from the matriarchy of weekdays to the patri- 
archy of Sundays was very impressive to a small boy, 
and to me it was sympathetic. My father practically 
never stopped working. Every morning immediately 

Childhood • 55 

after breakfast he was driven in his brougham from 
Lexham Gardens to Kings Bench Walk, where he 
had his chambers, and every evening at six the 
brougham fetched him back just in time for dinner 
at Lexham Gardens. After dinner and on Saturdays, 
if he was at home, he worked at his briefs. In the 
week, therefore, his children saw very little of him. 
Sometimes I was allowed to go into his dressing-room 
before breakfast to see him shaved, and sometimes 
my mother took me in the brougham to fetch him 
from the Temple— in the summer on such occasions 
we often stopped at the end of the Mall (or was it 
Birdcage Walk?) to drink a glass of milk from the 
Marsham Street cow who grazed of right in the 
corner of St. James's Park. But, as I was saying, this 
meant that we saw little of my father during the 
week, and Sunday lunch was a ceremony of some 
importance, for the whole family, capable of sitting 
upright and of eating roast beef, sat round the table. 
I suppose that in the house in Lexham Gardens 
towards the end of the i88o's six of the nine children 
sat round the table at Sunday lunch with my father 
and mother. There was always an immense sirloin 
of beef, carved with considerable ceremony by my 
father. Bennie— as my cousin was always called— lived 
alone in London, and he had a standing invitation 
to our Sunday lunch; he was nearly always there. 
When I was ten, he must have been about twenty- 
three or twenty-four. He was almost, to look at, the 
comic Jew of the caricature, and he was that curious, 
but not very uncommon, phenomenon, the silly Jew 
who seems deliberately to exaggerate and exploit his 

5^ • Sowing 

silliness. He was the Jew so accurately described by 
one of the Marx brothers: "He looks like a fool and 
talks like a fool, but don't let him deceive you— he is 
a fool." Sooner or later, usually towards the end of 
lunch, Bennie would contrive to say something of 
inconceivable imbecility. My father with an effort 
would restrain himself and ignore Bennie. But Ben- 
nie was a masochistic moth who could not keep away 
from the devastating flame. He would turn with im- 
becile innocence to my father and ask him whether 
he did not agree with the imbecility. My father's 
fingers would begin to beat a nervous tattoo upon 
the tablecloth and all the little Woolfs fell silent 
round the table, staring apprehensively at the in- 
sensate Bennie. "But, Uncle Sidney," he would say, 
"Uncle Sidney, it is true, isn't it, that red-haired 
people in France are not taxed?" "No, it is not true, 
Bennie, and no one in the world but you would be- 
lieve it." "But, Uncle Sidney—" and then my father 
would throw up his hands and let loose upon Ben- 
nie's head the torrent of his exasperation. 

My mother was a good-looking young woman, and 
we all liked to see her let down her hair, for it 
reached well below her knees and was extraordinarily 
thick. She must have been a perfect wife, for she 
adored my father and yet was sufficiently different 
from him to make life interesting always for both of 
them. She adored her children and made life very 
interesting for them when they were small. The best 
hours of the day were between tea-time and my 
father's return from the Temple, for we spent them 
with her in the library playing when we were quite 

Childhood • ^5 

small and being read to later on when we were seven 
or eight or more. She was extremely lively and al- 
ways ready for a joke both with us and with father. 
For instance, once when we were all away for the 
summer holidays in a house in Penmaenmawr, the 
rain came down in that solid, interminable, relentless 
way which seems peculiar to the grey mountains of 
Wales and Scotland. The feeling that there is no 
reason why it should ever stop, the conviction that it 
never will stop induces in the human mind, partic- 
ularly the child's mind, a feeling of complete de- 
spair. My parents and four or five of the elder chil- 
dren sat hour after hour in a largish sitting-room 
reading and looking out of the window at the grey 
sky and grey rain streaming down from the grey 
sky. Late in the afternoon my mother decided that 
something must be done. She dressed herself up in a 
black dress, with a black hat and a thick black veil 
and rang the front-door bell. The servant came in 
and told my father that there was a lady on the door- 
step who asked to see him on urgent business. With 
some hesitation he agreed to see her. My mother was 
shown in and started off brilliantly with a long and 
somewhat confused story. Father did not recognize 
her, she played the part so well, and he began cross- 
examining her in his usual quick, incisive way. Sud- 
denly she got a laughing fit and could not say a word 
to answer his questions. This was too much for his 
impatient nature and we rocked with laughter ^vhen 
he burst out: "My good woman . . ." My mother 
laughed so much that she had to snatch off the veil 
and reveal herself. 

^6 • Sowing 

My mother had for my father and for his memory 
after his death something of the attitude which 
Queen Victoria had for Albert, though she was much 
less exaggerated and completely without the Queen's 
craziness. I suppose that Victorian matriarchs in 
widowhood tended to conform to this pattern, in 
which a long life was dominated by the apotheosis of 
a dead husband. My mother was in many ways an 
ordinary middle-class woman, but twenty- five per 
cent of her was a very individual and curious char- 
acter. She lived to the age of eight-seven or eighty- 
eight, and if she had not insisted upon doing every- 
thing for herself— which meant that after the age of 
eighty she was always falling down and breaking a 
leg or arm— she might well have lived many more 
years. Physically, like most of her family, she was 
tough, though psychologically— again like them— soft. 
Or, rather, what made her a curious character was 
the strange mixture in her psychology of toughness 
and softness. To hear her talk you would sometimes 
have concluded that she was living in a world of 
complete unreality. And so up to a point she did. 
She lived in a dream world which centred in herself 
and her nine children. It was the best of all possible 
worlds, a fairyland of nine perfect children worship- 
ping a mother to whom they owed everything, loving 
one another, and revering the memory of their de- 
ceased father. Nothing that actually happened, no 
fact, however black, however inconsistent with the 
dream, made her doubt its reality and its rosiness. 
That anyone, particularly one of her own children, 
should doubt or throw doubt on it was the one thing 

Childhood • 57 

in life which really distressed her. She loved all her 
nine surviving children, but she loved me less, I 
think, than any of the eight others, because she felt 
me to be unsympathetic to her view of the family, 
of the universe, and of the relation of the one to the 
other. By nature she was a good-tempered and happy 
person, and we did not often have family rows or 
scenes, but every now and then we did have a terrific 
row, a most distressing scene, and it was nearly al- 
ways caused by one of her children disturbing my 
mother's dream. 

I remember once at dinner my eldest brother and 
I, and probably one or two younger brothers, were 
arguing vehemently about an incident which, ac- 
cording to the papers, had just taken place in one of 
our wars, probably the Boer war: a gunner of the 
R.H.A., rushing his gun up to a vital position, looked 
down and saw his brother lying wounded on the 
ground. For some reason, to stop his horses or swerve 
would have been contrary to orders or to the Gun- 
ners' tradition and therefore disastrous. Like a good 
soldier— so the papers said— he shut his eyes and 
drove over his brother. Was he right? My brother 
Herbert said he was wrong. I said he was right and 
gave an interesting account of the thoughts which 
would pass through my head and the arguments, 
military and moral, which would determine my ac- 
tion, if, in some future war, I found myself unfortu- 
nately driving a gun over the wounded body of Her- 
bert. We had become so interested in the problem 
that we had completely forgotten the presence of my 
mother and my sister. Both were in tears and almost 

^8 • Sowing 

in hysterics, and from about 8:30 until near mid- 
night we tried without success to restore the damaged 
fabric of my mother's dream and calm the fury of 
feminine distress. My brother did not make the busi- 
ness easy. He was one of those persons who, with the 
best of intentions, can never leave well alone, and 
every time that my mother seemed to have got rid 
of the appalling vision of one of her sons driving 
a gun over his brother and had begun to recover the 
rosiness of her fairyland, Herbert, thinking to make 
everything doubly sure and convince mother that we 
had all meant the same thing all the time, would 
begin again with: "But, mother, you must see that," 
etc., etc., and we were instantly back where we 
started at 8:30 with mother and sister in tears. 

The curious thing about my mother was that, al- 
though she lived in this dream world of rosy senti- 
mentality and unreality, she was at the same time an 
extremely practical, sensible, hard-headed woman. 
When my father died, she found herself left with 
nine children, the eldest of whom was sixteen and 
the youngest three years old. Though my father had 
been making a considerable income at the bar, they 
spent nearly all of it, and suddenly at his death, she 
passed from being very well off into a condition of 
comparative poverty. She had a little capital, but her 
income was quite inadequate to educate her nine 
children in the way that a barrister's children were 
habitually educated in the i88o's and 1890's. She 
was also saddled with a long lease of a very large 
house requiring seven or eight servants and an expend- 
iture which she now could not possibly afford. My 

Childhood • ^p 

father must have been oddly careless about money, 
for at his own expense he had built a large wing on 
to the back of the house in Lexham Gardens, though 
he was the lessee, not the owner, of it. This was a 
fatal thing to do, for the house thus became much 
the largest in the street, and so it was now extremely 
difficult to let, being much larger and more expensive 
than the kind of house which the kind of people who 
wanted to live in Lexham Gardens expected to find 
there. It was indeed a white elephant to us, or an 
albatross hung round our necks, threatening to ruin 
my widowed mother and her nine innocent children. 

For a year or two it depleted her capital, but just 
in the nick of time we got rid of it at some cost. She 
then showed great courage and sound sense. She took 
a much smaller house in Putney, into which she 
packed her nine children, a cook, a parlourmaid, and 
a housemaid, and she determined to spend the whole 
of her capital on educating her nine children, in the 
hope that by the time the money was exhausted they 
would be in positions in which they could maintain 
her and themselves. The gamble came off, but it 
would not have done so unless four of us had got 
scholarships at St. Paul's School and three of us 
scholarships at Cambridge. From my twelfth to my 
twenty-fourth year the menace of money hung over 
us all always and we had to be extremely careful of 
every penny; but my mother, though she had oc- 
casional panics, behaved on the whole with great 
common-sense, and though we all knew the risks we 
were running, we did not worry much about it. 

The complete break in my life at the age of eleven, 

40 • Sowing 

caused by my father's death, and the change from 
considerable affluence to the menace of extreme 
poverty had a curious effect upon me and in fact all 
of us. Looking back from i960 to 1892, when my 
father died, I think that there was something to be 
said for the kind of life lived by the Victorian Woolf 
family in Lexham Gardens and by the many other 
similar bourgeois families in Bayswater and Ken- 
sington. It is, of course, condemned by Karl Marx 
and his all-red disciples, and it is because I con- 
demn its economic basis and its economic effect 
upon other classes that I have been a socialist for 
most of my life. But the social standards of value 
in Lexham Gardens were very high, much higher 
than in any proletarian society today or in the 
proletarian section of a mixed class society. There 
is much which can be and has been legitimately said 
against family life on the grand scale, as developed 
by the middle classes of the nineteenth century: its 
snugness and smugness, snobbery, its complacent ex- 
ploitation of economic, sexual, and racial classes. It 
had an innate tendency to produce the spiritual sub- 
urbanism which was the warp upon which so many 
superior novelists wove their stories between 1890 
and 1914, a suburbanism which was a modern ver- 
sion of that lamentable philistinism which in pre- 
vious generations had roused the sorrowful protests 
of Matthew Arnold and the fury and frenzy of Alger- 
non Charles Swinburne. Yet it also had high psycho- 
logical and aesthetic values, precisely those values 
which one feels so strongly in the family life as de- 
scribed in Tolstoy's novels. The actual relations be- 



tween the human beings living in these large house- 
holds and between the several households related by 
blood or friendship were, on the whole, in my remem- 
brance extraordinarily human and humane. How 
much simpler everything would be if everything was 
either black or white, good or bad. 

To return to the economic catastrophe of my 
father's death, it made us all a little more serious and 
mature than children between the ages of ten and 
fourteen are by nature. But it was an economic and 
materialist seriousness and maturity. I know all that 
there is to know about security and insecurity, of 
which much younger generations than mine have 
sung so many and such pathetic songs. I learned my 
lesson in 1892 before I was twelve years old. Before 
my father died, I— and, I think, the whole family- 
had a profound and, of course, completely uncon- 
scious sense of economic security, and, therefore, 
personally of social security. Money was not talked 
about or thought about or worried about; it was just 
there to be spent, not recklessly or extravagantly, but 
on things which ladies and gentlemen needed or 
wanted. And the social background, the house and 
servants and brougham and Sunday sirloin, which 
were based upon this invisible and unmentioned 
money, were accepted without question as stable and 
permanent, like the money. I was aware, at the age of 
eleven, that all this would send me to a public school, 
a university, and chambers in the Temple. This sense 
of economic and social security was, as I have said, 
innate and unconscious. It was followed suddenly in 
twenty-four hours by an acute and highly conscious 

4 2 • Sowing 

sense of economic insecurity. Considering the tre- 
mendous reversal of fortune— which has always been 
assumed in literature to be the essence of tragedy- 
looking back, I am rather surprised that we did not 
take the whole thing more tragically. We did not 
worry much about the thing, but we became almost 
in a night economically serious and mature. In this 
we showed a good deal of sense. 

We showed good sense because my experience con- 
vinces me that money is not nearly as important as 
we are inclined to believe. Until I reached the age 
of eleven we were very well off. For the next eleven 
years of my life we were extremely poor. Then for 
seven years I was comfortably off. When at the age 
of thirty-two I resigned from the Ceylon Civil Serv- 
ice, I had no money and no job, and, having mar- 
ried, Virginia and I had to work hard and be mone- 
tarily careful. After some ten years I found myself 
once more, as I had been in childhood, very well 
off. The point is that in all these economic vicissi- 
tudes, though money or its absence made a consider- 
able superficial difference to one's way of life and the 
volume and quality of one's possessions, I cannot 
see that it ever had any great or fundamental effect 
upon my happiness or unhappiness. 

In my view happiness and unhappiness are of im- 
mense importance, perhaps the most important things 
in life and, therefore, in an autobiography. It is 
curious that so little is known about them, particu- 
larly the happiness and unhappiness of children. I 
have pointed out in a serious book on politics, Prin- 
cipia Politica, that the apparently innate and pro- 

Childhood • </5 

found unhappiness of the human infant, who will go 
into loud paroxysms of misery without provocation, 
is unknown in the young of other animals. This 
primeval pessimism of man must have great psycho- 
logical and social importance, but autobiographically 
it is irrelevant, for, as far as I am concerned, I cannot 
remember anything about my infancy. At the time 
when my memories begin we were a cheerful and 
happy family of children, certainly above the average 
intellectually. But I can vividly recall two occasions 
when, at a very early age, I was suddenly stricken 
with an acute pang of cosmic rather than personal 

My first experience of Weltschmerz, if that is what 
it was, must have come to me at the very early age of 
five or six. Behind the house in Lexham Gardens was 
a long parallelogram enclosed by the house on the 
north and on the other three sides by three gximy 
six-foot walls. It was a typical London garden of 
that era, consisting of a worn parallelogram of 
grass surrounded by narrow gravel paths and then 
narrow beds of sooty, sour London soil against the 
walls. Each child was given a few feet of bed for his 
own personal "garden" and there we sowed seeds or 
grew pansies bought off barrows in the Earls Court 
Road. I was very fond of this garden and of my 
''garden" and it was here that I first experienced a 
wave of that profound, cosmic melancholia ^vhich is 
hidden in every human heart and can be heard at 
its best— or should one say worst?— in the infant cry- 
ing in the night and with no language but a cry. 
It happened in this way. 

^4 ' Sowing 

Every year in the last week of July or the first of 
August, the whole Woolf family went away for a 
summer holiday to the country. It was a large-scale 
exodus. First my mother went off and looked at 
houses. Then we were told that a house had been 
"taken." When the day came, six, seven, eight, and 
eventually nine children, servants, dogs, cats, canaries, 
and at one time two white rats in a bird-cage, moun- 
tains of luggage were transported in an omnibus to 
the station and then in a reserved "saloon" railway 
carriage to our destination. I can remember country 
houses in Wimbledon, Kenley, Tenby, Penmaen- 
mawr, Speldhurst, and Whitby which carry me back 
in memory to my fifth year. And I can remember 
returning one late, chilly September afternoon to 
Lexham Gardens from our holiday and rushing out 
eagerly to see the back garden. There it lay in its 
grimy solitude. There was not a breath of air. There 
were no flowers; a few spindly lilac bushes drooped 
in the beds. The grimy ivy drooped on the grimy 
walls. And all over the walls from ivy leaf to ivy leaf 
were large or small spider-webs, dozens and dozens 
of them, quite motionless, and motionless in the 
centre of each web sat a large or a small, a fat or a 
lean spider. I stood by myself in the patch of scurfy 
grass and contemplated the spiders; I can still smell the 
smell of sour earth and ivy; and suddenly my whole 
mind and body seemed to be overwhelmed in melan- 
choly. I did not cry, though there were, I think, tears 
in my eyes; I had experienced for the first time, with- 
out understanding it, that sense of cosmic imhappi- 
ness which comes upon us when those that look out 

Childhood • ^5 

of the windows be darkened, when the daughters of 
music are laid low, the doors are shut in the street, 
the sound of the grinding is low, the grasshopper is 
a burden, and desire fails. 

There is another curious fact connected with my 
passion among the spiders in the garden. Forty years 
later, when I was trying to teach myself Russian, I 
read Aksakov and the memories of his childhood. 
His description of the garden and the raspberry canes 
recalled to me most vividly my spider-haunted Lon- 
don garden and the despair which came upon me 
that September afternoon. I felt that what I had ex- 
perienced among the spiders and ivy he must have 
experienced half a century before among the rasp- 
berries in Russia. 

The second occasion on which I felt the burden of 
a hostile universe weigh down my spirit must have 
been when I was about eight years old. We had 
arrived in Whitby for our summer holidays and 
found ourselves in a large, new red-brick house on 
a cliff overlooking the sea. After tea I wandered out 
by myself to explore the garden. The house and 
garden were quite new, for the garden was almost 
bare. Along the side facing the sea ran a long low 
mound or rampart. I sat there in the sunshine look- 
ing down on the sparkling water. It smelt and felt so 
good after the long hours in the stuffy train. And 
then suddenly quite near me out of a hole in the 
bank came two large black and yellow newts. They 
did not notice me and stretched themselves out to 
bask in the sun. They entranced me and I forgot 
everything, including time, as I sat there with those 

^6 • Sowing 

strange, beautiful creatures surrounded by blue sky, 
sunshine, and sparkling sea. I do not know how long 
I had sat there when, all at once, I felt afraid. I 
looked up and saw that an enormous black thunder 
cloud had crept up and now covered more than half 
of the sky. It was just blotting out the sun, and, as it 
did so, the newts scuttled back into their hole. It 
was terrifying and, no doubt, I was terrified.* But I 
felt something more powerful than fear, once more 
that sense of profound, passive, cosmic despair, the 
melancholy of a human being, eager for happiness 
and beauty, powerless in face of a hostile universe. 
As the great raindrops began to fall and the thunder 
to mutter and growl over the sea, I crept back into 
the house with a curious muddle of fear, contempt, 
scepticism, and fatalism in my childish mind. 

The child's mind and, since the child is father of 
the man, the man's mind are supposed to be formed 
very largely by religion and education. I find it very 
difficult in retrospect to discover what effect either 
had upon my mind and character. Both my parents 
were respectably religious. They believed in God. 
My mother went to synagogue on Saturday mornings 

* It has been pointed out to me that Thomas Traherne seems to 
have had a similar experience. He writes in Centuries of Meditation 
(Third Century, No. 23): "Another time in a lowering and sad 
evening, being alone in the field, when all things were dead and 
quiet, a certain want and horror fell upon me, beyond imagination. 
The unprofitableness and silence of the place dissatisfied me; its 
wideness terrified me; from the utmost ends of the earth fears sur- 
rounded me. How did I know but dangers might suddenly arise 
from the East and invade me from the unknown regions beyond 
the seas? I was a weak and little child, and had forgotten there was 
a man alive in the earth." 

Childhood • ^7 

fairly often, my father on the major feasts and festi- 
vals. They had us taught Hebrew by a rabbi who 
looked more like the traditional Jesus Christ than 
anyone else I have ever seen. He was an incompetent 
teacher and taught us a smattering of Hebrew, just 
enough to enable us to repeat a few Hebrew prayers. 
I cannot remember ever having actively believed in 
God though I suppose I must at one time have ac- 
cepted his existence in a passive way. I think myself, 
though probably very few will agree with me, that 
my experience with the spiders and the thunder 
cloud destroyed any belief in God and religion which 
I may have had before. I know that it was not long 
after my fourteenth birthday that I announced that 
I was an unbeliever and would not in future go to 
synagogue, and I am sure that I had been contemplat- 
ing this step for some time before I took it. When 
I solemnly announced to my mother that I no longer 
believed in Jehovah, she wept, but her tears were 
not very convincing, I think, either to me or to her. 
She was genuinely distressed, but not very acutely; 
that I should repudiate the diety and refuse to go to 
synagogue caused a family sensation, but only a mild 
one which lasted a very short time. 

As regards God himself, it is interesting to observe 
that by 1894 his position had already become pre- 
carious. No one, not even the believers, believed that 
he would take any steps against me for becoming an 
atheist. He had become as aloof, intennittent, and 
tenuous as a comet, and just as ineffective to impinge 
upon matter or to punish a sinner. Indeed, no intelli- 
gent person any longer in practical affairs even consid- 

^8 • Sowing 

ered the possibility of God intervening to reward 
the virtuous or punish the sinner any more than to 
bring rain to a parched crop or immunity from 
cholera and smallpox. People did of course still talk 
as if he could or might do so, but they acted as if he 
couldn't. In less than a century his position had 
suffered a change almost exactly like that of the 
British monarchy. He had become a constitutional 
instead of an absolute God. He got any amount of 
reverence and worship from his ministers and 
people; but all his powers and prerogatives had 
fallen from his hands into those of priests, the Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury or the Pope, of clergymen, 
churches, and chapels. All that remained to the deity 
was in fact caput mortuum. 

Looking at the event from my point of view, I 
cannot see that loss of religious faith had any effect 
at all upon me morally either for good or for bad. 
I never suffered any of those torments of doubt and 
pain, remorse and horror, which have been described 
by their sufferers in many classical nineteenth-cen- 
tury cases of men or women losing their faith. This 
may perhaps mean that my faith was always rather 
feeble or that I was never allergic to divinity. When 
I look into my heart and mind, I find a complete 
vacuum in certain places which in most other people 
seem to be full to overflowing. I feel absolutely no 
desire or necessity to worship. Indeed, I have an 
instinctive dislike of all gods and Gods, kings, 
queens, and princes. To turn a rather stupid, ordi- 
nary man or a rather plain, ordinary young woman 
into a myth of majesty and beauty I find impossible. 

Childhood • ^p 

despite (or in part because of) the vast engines of 
modern propaganda, which in the press, the radio, 
and television are employed so successfully to induce 
the masses to accept the miracle. The cry *'I must 
have a God and a faith, or I should have no hope" 
leaves me cold. II can get no comfort from believing 
what I want to believe when I know that there is no 
possible reason for believing it to be true. In fact, 
however, the universe would for me be a more com- 
fortless place if it owed its origin and laws to one of 
the Gods whom man has invented than if it was 
merely the inexplicable phenomenon that on the 
surface (which is all we see and know) it appears 
to be. If Jehovah or almost any of the other major 
deities is our creator and ruler, the lot of man is 
hopeless, for he is subject to a "person" who is not 
only irrational, but cruel, vindictive, and uncivilized. 
The only tolerable Gods were those of the Greeks 
because no sensible man had to take them seriously. 
Of serious, major Gods only two have been civilized: 
Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ. Buddha, how- 
ever, is such an abstraction that he cannot be reck- 
oned as one of the personal deities, and is to be 
regarded rather as one of the world's great philoso- 
phers, inventors of those fairy tales which we call 
metaphysics or rules of conduct which we call ethics. 
Christ seems to me to have been a great, but rather 
unpractical, man, who preached a civilized code of 
conduct and civilized way of life. If Europe had ac- 
cepted Christ's Christianity and put it into practice, 
toning down or even rejecting some few rules of 
conduct prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount 

^o • Sowing 

which are too Utopian or civilized for human nature 
as we know it today, our history would have been 
less horrible and degraded and the world a far hap- 
pier and far better place. Unfortunately, upon the 
civilized teaching of Jesus were grafted the dreadful 
doctrines of sin and punishment and that supersti- 
tion which for thousands of years has haunted the 
savage and terrified mind of man— the belief that by 
killing or crucifying a God, a man, or a goat we can 
use their blood to wash away our sins. I am glad that 
I was never taught, as a child, this horrible doctrine 
of Crucifixion and Redemption. 

Another thing which leads people to religion is 
the practice of praying. Here again I have never felt 
the slightest desire to pray to a God or to anyone 
or anything else. The whole business seems to me one 
of the oddest freaks in human psychology. It is easy 
enough to understand that if you really believe in a 
personal deity and also believe that by the prescribed 
adulation, adjuration, and supplication you can in- 
duce him to do something to your advantage which 
otherwise he would not do or had forgotten to do- 
such as to make it rain over your fields, county, or 
country, or to destroy your enemy, or to forgive your 
sins— it is eminently sensible of you to pray to him or 
to hire a shaman, the Rector of the parish, or the 
Archbishop of Canterbury, as expert intercessor or 
professional go-between, to do the praying for you. 
But do nine out of ten of the people who pray or hire 
the professional prayers, do the professionals them- 
selves, the parish priests and the Bishops and Arch- 
bishops, really believe today that they can induce 

Childhood • 5/ 

God to make it rain, to destroy Germans or Russians, 
or to cure a child or a king of cancer or tuberculosis? 
I doubt whether they believe anything of the kind, 
and I simply cannot understand how they can go on 
year after year saying prayers which they know can- 
not have the slightest efficacy. 

But there is an even odder phenomenon than this 
in the psychology of prayer. Years ago when I was in 
my early forties, and therefore pretty uncompromis- 
ing, I was one day eating my bleak plate of roast 
mutton at the unemotional dinner table in the tene- 
brous dining-room of 41 Grosvenor Road. In other 
words I was dining with the Webbs and I was sitting 
between Beatrice Webb and her sister Mrs. Henry 
Hobhouse. Somehow or other the subject of prayer 
turned up, and I said with some emphasis that I had 
never really prayed in my life; I had, of course, said 
my prayers as a child, the prayers which we were 
taught, like all well-brought-up, middle-class chil- 
dren, whatever the religious fold or sty we happened 
to be born into, to say morning and evening, but I 
had never prayed with the feeling that I was really 
addressing or asking someone something. I added 
that I could not understand how any intelligent per- 
son of the twentieth century could get himself into 
the frame of mind in which praying to God meant 
something to him. The two sisters fell upon me 
vigorously, the one from one side and the other 
from the other. I had met Mrs. Hobhouse very rarely, 
but I knew Mrs. Webb quite well and had the 
greatest respect and liking for her. She was one of the 
most intelligent persons I have known, but ^vith 

52 • Sowing 

some large blind spots in her intellectual and aes- 
thetic vision. She told me that she habitually prayed 
with the utmost intensity and profound spiritual 

I tried that day at dinner and later in other con- 
versations with Beatrice Webb to discover exactly 
what she prayed about and what the profound 
psychological effect upon her was, but I never got 
anywhere near an understanding. I do not think that 
she had any belief in a personal God or that she 
believed in anything which I should regard as reli- 
gion, though she may have followed Shaw in the 
characteristic compromise, in deference to the scien- 
tific age, of substituting the Life Force for old 
bearded Jehovah. But can one pray to a Life Force? 
At any rate I failed completely to get Beatrice to 
explain what she prayed about or what the effect was. 
The nearest that I got to an explanation was that 
when she prayed she got the same kind of "release" 
or relaxation of tension which some people get from 
confession to a priest or a psycho-analyst. 

The explanation of such a psychological idiosyn- 
crasy as this is probably never simple and all sorts of 
contradictory thoughts and feelings were probably 
required to combine to make Beatrice Webb pray. 
At first sight she presented to one a facade of perfect 
poise and certitude, and with Sidney opposite her to 
catch and return with such precision the ball of 
conversation, it seemed fantastic to believe that any 
doubts or hesitation could ever assail the Webbs in 
Grosvenor Road. Occasionally one might say some- 
thing to them which they would not discuss on the 

Childhood • 53 

ground that it was "not their subject" and that they 
knew nothing: about it— it is curious to remember 
that when I first knew them, which was before the 
1914 war, foreign affairs was "not their sul^ject." But 
even these flashes of ignorance only added to the 
impression of their omniscient certitude. For though 
neither of them was in the least arrogant, one was 
left with the impression that if the subject had any 
real importance it would not be "not their subject." 
Sidney's facade was no facade at all; he was all the 
way through exactly what he appeared to be on the 
surface. He had no doubts or hesitations (just as he 
had never had a headache or constipation); for he 
knew accurately what could be known about impor- 
tant subjects or, if he did not actually know it, he 
knew that he could obtain accurate knowledge about 
it with the aid of a secretary and a card index. When 
Beatrice talked about religion or prayer, I never 
remember him to have taken any part in the conver- 
sation, though he seemed to follow it with attentive 
amusement. I am sure that prayer and God meant 
even less to him than they did to me. But you could 
not see much of Beatrice without realizing that, be- 
neath the metallic facade and the surface of polished 
certainty, there was a neurotic turmoil of doubt and 
discontent, suppressed or controlled, an ego tortured 
in the old-fashioned religious way almost universal 
among the good and wise in the nineteenth century. 
I do not think tortured is too strono a word, for, if 
you watched Beatrice Webb when she was not the 
hostess, not talking, but attending only to her own 
thoughts, you would occasionally see a look of in- 

5^ • Sowing 

tense spiritual worry or acute misery cross her face. 
This deep-seated maladjustment is confirmed by her 
autobiography, which reveals her as a woman of 
strong emotions with a profound conflict within her- 
self between what she calls "the ego which affirmed" 
and "the ego which denied." She had, too, the 
temperament, strongly suppressed, the passions and 
imagination, of an artist, though she would herself 
have denied this. Her defence against these psycho- 
logical strains and stresses was a highly personal form 
of mysticism, and in the consolatory process prayer 
played an important, if to me incomprehensible, part. 
My attitude to prayer and religion appeared to 
irritate Beatrice, though in general she was, I think, 
fond of both Virginia and me. (During the war and 
not long before her death, she told Bobo Mayor that 
she would like to see us again and would come up 
to London for the day if Bobo would get us to lunch 
with her. We went and lunched with her, Mrs. 
Drake, and Bobo. She was more mellow and affec- 
tionate than I had known her before; she asked me 
what I was writing and, when I told her, character- 
istically said that I must read their English Local 
Government^ Vol. IV, Statutory Authorities for Spe- 
cial Purposes, and a few days later she sent me a 
copy of the book. That was the last time I ever saw 
her.) To return to her attitude towards my attitude 
to religion, one Sunday when we were staying for a 
week-end with them at Passfield Corner, the conver- 
sation at lunch got on the subject of the teaching of 
religion in schools. When I said that I did not think 
it desirable that religion should be taught at all in 

Childhood • ^^ 

schools, she was vehemently against me and carried 
the conversation from the luncheon table to the 
library. It was the first time that I realized to the full 
the strength of her passions and mysticism. She 
seemed to get angry that I mildly maintained my 
opinion, and marched up and down the room argu- 
ing almost violently. Indeed, up and down she 
marched faster and faster, and as she whisked herself 
round at each turn faster and faster, talking all the 
time, suddenly at one of the whisks or turns some- 
thing in her skirt gave way and it fell on the floor 
entangling her feet. She stopped, picked it up, and 
holding it against her waist, continued her march up 
and down, never for a moment interrupting her 
passionate argument in favour of the teaching of 
religion in schools. Sidney and Virginia sat silent all 
through the discussion. 

I do not understand Beatrice Webb's attitude to 
religion. It was peculiar to herself. As I said, I do not 
think she was religious or had a belief in God. Mysti- 
cism and scepticism were so nicely balanced in her 
that her mysticism was of the most generalized and 
intellectualized kind. She was intellectually too hon- 
est and austere ever to swallow or accept the religion 
of a church, whether Anglican or Catholic. Difficult 
as I find it to understand her psychology, it is simple 
compared with that of intelligent intellectuals who, 
having attained that profound scepticism which is 
the religion of all sensible men, suddenly contrive to 
swallow in one gargantuan or synthetic act of faith 
the innumerable and fantastic doctrines and dogmas 
of the Church of England or the Church of Rome. 

5<5 • Sowing 

I can understand how that Jew of Tarsus, a city in 
Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city, as he was accus- 
tomed proudly to insist, long ago on his way to 
Damascus with intent to persecute Christians, being 
a stern orthodox Jew, taught according to the perfect 
manner of the ancient Jewish law, suddenly in broad 
daylight seeing a great light from heaven surround- 
ing him and hearing a voice say: "Saul, Saul, why 
persecutest thou me? I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom 
thou persecutest"— I can understand how Saul of 
Tarsus suffered instantly on the road to Damascus 
a complete conversion. But the belief to which he 
was converted was as simple as the belief from which 
he was converted. The great light and the voice from 
heaven convinced him that Jesus of Nazareth had not 
been a fraud, that he had really come to fulfil what 
the prophets and Moses had said would come, that he 
was the first man to rise from the dead— there he was 
after death appearing on the road to Damascus— and 
that it was his messianic mission to shew light to Jew 
and Gentile, teaching them how to repent and turn 
to God. 

The psychology of this kind of conversion, whether 
through Balaam's ass or the visions of a St. Teresa, 
seems to me completely comprehensible. You believe 
already in some form of thaumaturgical religion and 
suddenly a new thaumaturgist or an apparent 
miracle converts you violently to some other form. 
But there is no comparison with this in the psycho- 
logical somersault by which an intelligent sceptic 
acquires in one mouthful the encyclopaedia of amaz- 
ing beliefs which successfully turn him into a Roman 

Childhood • 57 

Catholic or a member of the Church of England. By 
what process of the mind or the emotions does one 
acquire sudden belief that the New Testament is a 
record of fact, that the Athanasian Creed is more 
certainly true and more significant than the multi- 
plication table, and that those astonishing statements 
of the citizen of no mean city which the Rector of 
Rodmell reads to us when we assemble to bury one 
of our neighbours are not merely matters of fact, 
but also intelligible? There are one or two quondam 
sceptics whom I have known well, whom I still re- 
gard with admiration and affection, and whose 
somersault into a church remains incomprehensible 
to me. T. S. Eliot is the most remarkable. Tom, 
when we first knew him, was neither an Englishman 
nor an Anglican. I helped him to become an English- 
man by becoming one of his statutory sponsors, and 
I am, I think legitimately, proud that I not only 
printed and published The Waste Land but had a 
hand in converting its author from an American to 
an English poet. I had no hand in converting him 
into an Anglican. In later years when he stayed with 
us at Rodmell, it filled us with silent amazement to 
see him go to early morning Communion at the 
village church. I could, if pushed to it, produce an 
intellectually adequate explanation of the psycho- 
logical process which brought Tom into the respecta- 
ble fold of the Church of England, but I have no 
sympathetic understanding of it, as I have of many 
other mental states in which I do not actually share. 
I have wandered forward from my point and my 
childhood, the point being the effect of religion and 

5 5 • Sowing 

education upon me as a child. There is nothing more 
to be said about religion. As for education, what a 
strange, haphazard muddle it all seems to have been 
when one looks back upon it. The first teaching that 
I can remember to have received was at a girls' school 
in Trebovir Road, one of those many Kensington 
streets which were the waste land of Victorian 
middle-class dreariness. The school, at which my 
sister Bella had been for some years a pupil, was kept 
by a Mrs. Cole and it included a kindergarten pre- 
sided over by a Mrs. Mole. Though the rest of the 
school was for girls only, co-education being in those 
days unknown, small boys were admitted to the 
kindergarten and entrusted to the incompetent Mrs. 
Mole. To the incompetent Mrs. Mole I was entrusted 
at the age of five or six. I cannot remember to have 
learnt anything at all in Trebovir Road except to 
take an early sexual interest in small girls. For be- 
sides the face of Mrs. Mole and the face of Mrs. Cole 
and the extremely low table at which we sat in the 
kindergarten, I can remember only two incidents. 
One was that I habitually sat illicitly holding under 
the table the hand of a small yellow-haired girl and 
the other was that I somehow or other induced a 
rather older girl, with black hair, who was not in the 
kindergarten, to cause an open scandal by kissing me 
in the hall. 

Whether it was considered that my education in 
other things was too slow or my education in sex too 
fast at Mrs. Cole's school, I do not know, but I was 
certainly removed from it pretty soon. My memory 
of what exactly happened to my education after that 

Childhood • 5^ 

is hazy, at any rate for a time. We had for many years 
a governess living in the house, Miss Amy, who came 
from the Channel Islands and was bilingual in 
French and English. She taught us French and read- 
ing, writing, and arithmetic, all rather incompe- 
tently. Fraulein Berger came two or three times a 
week to teach us German, and I have a dim remem- 
brance of other teachers, male and female, leaving 
an impression of being despised and dejected, in- 
sulted and injured, on my childish mind as they 
arrived weekly to teach us the piano, dancing, elocu- 
tion, and other subjects of the same kind which 
everyone concerned, including the pupils, seemed to 
assume from the start to be hopeless and useless. It 
is extraordinary that people like my parents who 
attached great value to knowledge, books, and things 
of the mind should have been content, as they appear 
to have been, in the i88o's to provide such very poor 
teachers for their small children. Until I came into 
the hands of Mr. Floyd (of whom I will tell more in a 
moment) at the age of nine, I had never been taught 
anything to rouse my interest by anyone. Yet I am 
sure that my parents spent large sums, according to 
the standards of the time, upon our education. The 
people who taught us meant well and were all of 
them kind and decent to us, but they were themselves 
uneducated and quite uninterested in anything to do 
with the mind, and they therefore never interested 
me in anything they were teaching. 

My nurse, who was with us for many years and 
brought us all up, had much less education than our 
governesses, but she was the first person to interest 

6o ' Sowing 

me in books and in the strange and fascinating work- 
ings of the human mind. She was a Somersetshire 
woman, born and bred on a farm, a rigid and puri- 
tanical Baptist. She read a Baptist paper every week 
from end to end and somehow or other she had got 
hold of a copy of de Quincey's Confessions of an Eng- 
lish Opium Eater. This book entranced her; she read 
it again and again. I find it difficult to believe my 
memory when it distinctly tells me that Nurse Vicary 
used to give me a detailed account of what she read 
in the Baptist Times and often read aloud de Quincey 
to me, and that at the age of four or five I was quite 
an authority on the politics and polemics of the Bap- 
tist sect and often fell asleep rocked, not in a cradle, 
but on the voluptuous rhythm of de Quincey's in- 
terminable sentences, whose baroque ornamentations 
must have been embellished by nurse's mispronun- 
ciations and her Somerset accent. But I had the deep- 
est affection for her and for the opium eater, and she 
was the first person to teach me the pleasure of fear 
and thrill over public events, the horrors and iniqui- 
ties of the great world of society and politics as re- 
corded in the Baptist Times about the year 1885. I 
can still feel myself physically enfolded in the warmth 
and safety of the great nursery on the third floor of 
the house in Lexham Gardens, the fire blazing be- 
hind the tall guard, the kettle singing away, and 
nurse, with her straight black hair parted in the 
centre, and her smooth, oval peasant face, reading 
the Baptist Times or the visions of the opium eater. 
Just as the spider-haunted garden remains in my 
mind as the primary pattern for all the waste lands 

Childhood • 6i 

and desolations into which I have wandered in later 
life, so the nursery with its great fire, when the cur- 
tains were pulled and the gas lit and nurse settled 
down to her reading, and occasionally far off could be 
heard the clop-clop of a horse and a hansom cab or 
four-wheeler, the nursery remains for me the Pla- 
tonic idea laid up in heaven of security and peace 
and civilization. But though in the course of my life I 
have passed through several desolations of desolation 
more desolate than the garden with its grimy ivy and 
its spider webs, I never again found any safety and 
civilization to equal that of the gas-lit nursery.* 

Outside the security of that nursery, terrible and 
terrifying things happened in the Kensington and 
London of fifty or sixty years ago. Hushed or whis- 
pered stories of Jack the Ripper, I think, penetrated 
into the nursery, and in my schoolroom days we were 
all terrified by a little woman, dressed all in black, 
who on foggy winter nights lurked in the Kensington 
streets, stabbed unsuspecting gentlemen with a long 
knife, and then disappeared into the darkness and 
the fog. There is no doubt that in the eighties and 
nineties of last century under the prim and pious pat- 
tern of bourgeois life, just beneath the surface of so- 
ciety, lay a vast reservoir of uncivilized squalor and 
brutality which no longer exists. It was a class reser- 
voir, and the squalor and brutality welled up, in 
London at any rate, from those appalling slums in- 
habited by the "lower classes." It was when these 

* The nurse in the photograph of the Woolf family is not Nurse 
Vicary. She was a nurse who came and looked after infants in arms; 
I think her name was Mrs. Ansehn. 

62 • Sowing 

dreadful drunken or savage creatures broke out for a 
moment from their lairs into the life of a small 
middle-class child that he first knew the paralyzing 
anguish of fear. I can still remember with the most 
sickening vividness some of the earliest occasions on 
which I learnt the agony and humiliation of unmiti- 
gated fear. The earliest of all is a memory of waking 
up in the middle of the night and hearing the shrieks 
of a woman pass along the Cromwell Road at the 
back of our house, pass along and fade away into the 
distance, leaving at last complete silence more terrify- 
ing even than the solitary shrieking. Next, standing 
on a chair at the dining-room window, watching the 
luggage being loaded on to the omnibus to take us 
all away on our holiday, and suddenly a drunken 
man in tatters, staggering about, trying to help with 
the luggage, cursing, swearing, becoming violent, and 
then finally the horrible sight of his vain struggle 
with a policeman and his being frog-marched away. 
Thirdly, here is another scene. We are returning 
with nurse or governess down Earls Court Road hav- 
ing just passed the almost rural peace of Holland 
Walk and the sophisticated civilization of old Hol- 
land House. Suddenly out of a narrow side street, 
which led to one of the blackest of Kensington slums, 
two policemen appeared dragging a tall, raging and 
raving woman. They were followed by a small growl- 
ing^, but crinsring^ crowd. Those who have never seen 
the inhabitants of a nineteenth-century London slum 
can have no idea of the state to which dirt, drink, and 
economics can reduce human beings. The men and 
women who surged or shuffled into the Earls Court 

Childhood • 6^ 

Road behind the two policemen were, like the men 
and women whom La Bruyere saw in the fields in 
France, ''animaiix jar ouches." It is true that they 
had, like the seventeenth-century agricultural species, 
"une voix articulee" and, when they stood on their 
hind legs, human faces, so that, if nurse had read to 
me La Bruyere instead of de Quincey, I might have 
stood in the Earls Court Road of 1885, instead of in 
the France of 1685, and murmured ''en effet Us sont 
des hommes." They were human beings, but they 
made me sick with terror and disgust in the pit of my 
small stomach, and the last scene, as the nurses hur- 
ried us away, is indelibly imprinted on my memory— 
the woman flung down in the middle of the road by 
one policeman, her battered black hat rolling away 
into the gutter, while the other drove back into their 
lairs the semi-circle of snarling "human beings." 
Such were the lessons in the sociology of classes which 
a child might learn in London streets about the time 
when Queen Victoria was celebrating the fiftieth year 
of her reign. 

Looking back to that scene in a ''respectable" Ken- 
sington street, I am struck by the immense change 
from social barbarism to social civilization which has 
taken place in London (indeed in Great Britain) dur- 
ing my lifetime. The woman, the policemen, the 
nurses, the small boy, the respectable passers-by avert- 
ing their eyes— all these are inhabitants of a London 
and a society which has passed away. It can be 
counted, I suppose, as one of the miracles of eco- 
nomics and education. The slums and their unfor- 
tunate and terrifying products no longer exist. No 

6^ • Sowing 

one but an old Londoner who has been born and 
bred and has lived for fifty or sixty years in London 
can have any idea of the extent of the change. It is 
amazing to walk down Drury Lane or the small 
streets about Seven Dials today and recall their condi- 
tion only fifty years ago. Even as late as 1900 it would 
not have been safe to walk in any of those streets after 
dark. The whole locality was an appalling slum, and 
its inhabitants, like all those of the innumerable 
slums scattered over London, were the animaux 
farouches described in the previous paragraph. They 
and their lairs, with the poverty, dirt, drunkenness, 
and brutality, have disappeared; the masses, which 
had terrified the bourgeoisie ever since they began to 
march from Paris to Versailles in October, 1789, have 
become the working classes, and in England, at any 
rate, if a socialist dare say so, the working class has 
become almost indistinguishable, in its way of life, 
manners, and outlook, from the bourgeoisie. In the 
last forty years of my life I have got to know the life 
of the English countryside— in the south of England— 
as intimately as I know London— indeed, more inti- 
mately, for in London one knows intimately only a 
tiny fragment of its life— and I have seen the same 
process of profound social change, the emergence of a 
civilization out of a barbarism, take place in rural 
Sussex. In a later chapter I shall have something 
more to say of this. 

I must return once more to my education. In Lex- 
ham Gardens the children were divided between the 
nursery and the schoolroom. I do not remember at 
what age one was promoted to the schoolroom but I 

Childhood • 6^ 

suppose it must have been round about the age of six 
or seven. Education began in the schoolroom, which 
was presided over by Miss Amy, a tiny little Channel 
Islander. She looked exactly like a little robin, ex- 
traordinarily cheerful and sweet-tempered. I think 
we were all rather well-behaved children, but some- 
times I used to try her beyond endurance and she 
would burst into tears. She had a passion for jam 
puffs, which were sold at Andersen's baker shop in 
Earls Court Road, and when Miss Amy was in tears, I 
always sneaked out to Andersen's and bought her a 
jam puff. The jam puff and "I'm sorry, Miss Amy" 
always brought immediate forgiveness. At some pe- 
riod of my childhood I was sent to St. Paul's Prepara- 
tory School. I cannot be quite certain when this took 
place, but I think it must have been in i88g, when I 
was nine years old. The only thing which I can re- 
member about it is that I hated the place and was 
terrified by a boy who occasionally interrupted the 
relentless slowness of time and the narcotic boredom 
of the lesson by falling down in an epileptic fit. I can- 
not remember to have learnt anything at this pre- 
paratory school. I am astonished, when I recall the 
ten years of my education from 1889 to i8gg, to find 
that the human brain could survive the desiccation, 
erosion, mouldiness, frustration applied to it for 
seven or eight hours every day and called education. I 
reckon that, before I went to Cambridge, I must have 
spent at least 10,000 hours of my short life sitting in 
some class-room, smelling of ink and boys, being 
taught by a gowned schoolmaster usually Latin, 
Greek, or mathematics, and occasionally French or 

66 • Sowing 

history. An immense number of those 10,000 hours 
was spent by me and, I think, the master in dense 
boredom. Of all my masters, only two (or possibly 
four) were interested in what they were teaching and 
interested in making it interesting. My intelligence 
must have been considerable to have survived this 
process of desiccation and attrition. 

I was only a term, or possibly two terms, at St. 
Paul's Preparatory School. In 1890, when I was ten 
years old, I was put under the care of a tutor who 
came daily to Lexham Gardens to teach me and my 
elder brother, Herbert. Mr. Floyd was a remarkable 
man, an eccentric who made the task of learning in- 
teresting. England, or rather Britain, breeds more 
eccentrics than most nations, and there is a national 
flavour to their eccentricity which is difficult to de- 
fine or describe. In private life they are mostly bores, 
but they perform a useful purpose in leavening the 
heavy dough of English society or, to alter the meta- 
phor, they help to keep the pores open to the flow of 
freedom. It was a good thing for a child of nine or 
ten to be taught by an eccentric like Mr. Floyd, who 
had views of his own, unusual views, about most 
things and did what he thought right and proper un- 
moved by the misprision of his superiors or the ridi- 
cule of his inferiors. 

Mr. Floyd was a tall, gaunt, long-legged man, very 
straight and upright, with thin greying hair and an 
absurd goatee. He had a large, wide-awake black hat 
which even in the street was more often in his hand 
than on his head. He had a curious look in his eyes of 
abstraction and ferocity. He instituted the following 

Childhood • 6y 

routine for us. After our breakfast Herbert and I 
walked to High Street, Kensington, station where we 
met him. He then set off down Wright's Lane to Lex- 
ham Gardens at a tremendous pace, Herbert on one 
side and I on the other. We had to run as fast as we 
could in order to keep up with him, his long legs 
striding out as in the pictures of the man in the 
seven-league boots, his head tilted up, the long thin 
hairs of his head and beard fluttering in the breeze, 
grasping in one hand an umbrella and in the other a 
black bag. Nearly everyone turned and looked at us 
with astonishment as we passed, and small streetboys 
or cads, as we then called them (I don't think they 
exist in London today), hooted at us. Mr. Floyd paid 
no attention to anything like that. 

As soon as we reached Lexham Gardens, we went 
straight through the hall to the small room overlook- 
ing the garden where we had our lessons. Mr. Floyd 
immediately sat down and we sat down one on each 
side of him. He put his large watch on the table, 
raised a ruler made of olive wood from Palestine, and 
said in a solemn voice, "Tacete," which is the Latin 
for *'Be silent." Then for a quarter, a half, or a whole 
minute, as he chose, we had to sit absolutely motion- 
less and silent. I still possess a little book in which I 
recorded from March 26, 1890 to May 26, 1891, the 
length of time each day I succeeded in being silent 
and motionless or failed. Mr. Floyd, in a beautiful 
hand, has headed the book "tace" and has inscribed 
on the first page. 

Qui non novit tacere, nescit loqui. 
Stultus non novit silentium servare. 

68 • Sowing 

He has also written something in Hebrew, which is 
odd, because I am sure that he was not a Jew. 

After "Tacete" we said the multiplication tables 
up to twelve as fast as we could. We did this daily 
until we succeeded in saying them without a mistake 
for three days running, each time within two min- 
utes. This is not an easy thing to do and it took us 
quite a long time before we succeeded; it was con- 
sidered that, having performed the feat, we knew the 
multiplication tables and need never say them again. 
There was a good deal to be said for Mr. Floyd's sys- 
tem, for, when I went to school, I found I was 
quicker than most boys in manipulating figures in 
simple arithmetic. He had also taught me to sit still 
and be silent on occasions, a rare accomplishment in 
a boy of ten. He taught me more than this. He had, I 
think, a genuine, if somewhat eccentric, passion for 
literature and he made one feel, even at that early 
age, that the books which we read with him— even 
Caesar's De Bello Ga//eco— had something pleasurable 
in them, and were not merely instruments of educa- 
tional torture. I have in my time been subjected, in 
the name of education, to so much mental torture, 
particularly the torture of the boredom of being 
taught by bored teachers, that I am grateful to Mr. 
Floyd for having made me dimly aware at the age of 
ten that lessons— things of the mind— could be excit- 
ing and even amusing. He had for some books the 
same kind of insatiable love as my nurse had for de 
Quincey. One of them was Rasselas, a copy of which 
he always carried in his pocket. We read Rasselas 
with him and he pointed out its beauties to us, but, 


Childhood • 6p 

unlike nurse's Opium Eater ^ it is a book which had 
and has no appeal to me. It seemed to me tedious and 
tiresome, but there must be something to it, because 
my mother, who sometimes came and listened to our 
lessons, became entranced by it. She bought a copy, 
which was usually by her bedside, and before she 
died she must have read the book dozens of times. 

One of the pleasant things about Mr. Floyd was 
that he was one of those very rare people who never 
mind looking ridiculous. He taught us to play fives 
against a wall on the verandah and he also taught us 
singlestick, and as he was very tall and we were very 
small, the spectacle was extraordinarily absurd. But 
to see Mr. Floyd at his best was to see him reading 
Caesar with my canary sitting on the top of his head. 
I had a canary, called Chickabiddy, who was so tame 
that the door of his cage was never shut during the 
day and he used to fly about the room. I had taught 
him to come and perch on one's head if one called 
"Chickabiddy, Chickabiddy," and it used to be a 
game we played for two of us to stand at opposite 
ends of a room and make him fly backwards and for- 
wards very rapidly from head to head. Mr. Floyd be- 
came very fond of him and he took a liking to Mr. 
Floyd's head. Mr. Floyd had a habit of walking up 
and down the room as he taught us, and Chickabiddy 
would sit the whole time on his head. The moment 
would come— eagerly awaited by us— when Chicka- 
biddy would make a mess on the top of Mr. Floyd's 
head. If he was aware of the evacuation, he wiped the 
mess off with a piece of blotting-paper without inter- 
rupting the lesson. Sometimes he did not feel ^vhat 

'JO • Sowing 

had happened, and then I, as owner of the bird, said: 
"I am afraid. Sir, Chickabiddy has made a mess," and 
Mr. Floyd would say very politely: "Thank you, my 
boy," and wipe the mess off with the blotting-paper. 
When my father died early in 1892, I was eleven 
years old and Mr. Floyd passed out of my life com- 
pletely: he never came to see us again and I do not 
know what happened to him. He made a great im- 
pression upon me and I have a vivid memory of him, 
both physically and mentally. I think he must have 
been a very humane and civilized man, but, young as 
I was, I felt that he was an unhappy and disappointed 
man. Well, he passed out of my life and I was sent to 
a boarding school at Brighton. It was Arlington 
House in Kemp Town, an expensive preparatory 
school of which the headmaster was a Mr. Burman. 
My brother Herbert had been sent there in 1891 
when my father was still alive and we were well-off. A 
year later, when my father was dead, we were much 
too poor to afford the fees of Arlington House. But 
Mr. Burman, who was a stupid, but a very nice and 
generous man, insisted that Herbert and I should 
both come to the school at greatly reduced fees, and 
later on he did the same thing for my four younger 
brothers. He was one of the most ingrained conserva- 
tives I have ever known. Arlington House was a lead- 
ing preparatory school in Brighton and full of sons of 
rich people. But Mr. Burman was so conservative 
that he would never change anything; in the first 
decade of the twentieth century things began to move 
and change even in middle-class education and Ar- 


Childhood • 7/ 

lington House began to go downhill and eventually 
Mr. Burman had to give it up. 

I was at Arlington House for two years from 1892 
to 1894. The education which I received was no bet- 
ter and no worse than that usually given at the time 
to the sons of successful army officers, barristers, cler- 
gymen, and stock-brokers. I was taught to play cricket 
and soccer seriously by masters who thought both 
games of great importance. One of them, Mr. Woolley, 
was a first-class cricketer and a very good footballer. 
His attitude to cricket was that of an artist to his art. 
To be bowled or caught was pardonable; but to play 
an incorrect stroke or to cut or drive without "style" 
was, even though you might hit a four off the stroke, 
a crime. The whole school was lined up every day in 
the summer term and did "bat drill" for a quarter of 
an hour with Mr. Woolley, a handsome, dark, lean, 
graceful man, facing us with a bat in his hand, like a 
conductor before his orchestra. "Forward" or "off 
drive," he would say making the stroke perfectly him- 
self, and the whole school would play forward or off 
drive, and he, like the great conductor, would spot 
even the smallest boy in the back row if he did not 
come perfectly straight forward or did not follow 
through in the drive in perfect style. I was quite good 
at cricket and in both elevens, and I learned from 
Mr. Woolley the seriousness of games, the importance 
of style, the duty when you go in to bat of making 
every stroke with the concentration which an artist 
puts into every stroke of his brush in painting a mas- 
terpiece. Since those days I have played nearly every 
kind of game from fives and bowls to golf and rugger, 

72 • Sowing 

and I have played them each and all with the greatest 
pleasure. But Mr. Woolley's teaching had such an ef- 
fect upon me that I cannot play any game unless I 
treat it seriously, i.e.^ each stroke or movement must 
be correct and above all you must aim at "style." 

If we were taught to take games seriously by the 
masters at Arlington House, we were taught to take 
all other lessons not seriously. We were taught Greek, 
Latin, arithmetic, algebra, euclid, history, geography, 
French, and scripture. All the masters were hopelessly 
bored by all these subjects and so were we. Anyone 
seen to be good at lessons or rudimentarily intelli- 
gent was suspect both to masters and boys; to be a 
"swot," i.e. J to take lessons at all seriously, was en- 
tirely depicable. I was then and have remained all my 
life a "swot"; I escaped the unpleasant consequences 
at Arlington House and later at St. Paul's, partly be- 
cause I had a pretty violent temper and partly be- 
cause I was sufficiently good at games to make intelli- 
gence and hard work pass as an eccentricity instead 
of being chastised as vice or personal nastiness. I 
must have been rather intelligent; otherwise I cannot 
see how I could possibly have learned enough from 
Mr. Burman and his assistants to win, as I did, a 
scholarship at St. Paul's in 1894. 

The only thing I learned thoroughly at Arlington 
House, other than cricket, was the nature and prob- 
lems of sex. These were explained to me, luridly and 
in minute detail, almost at once by a small boy who 
had probably the dirtiest mind in an extraordinarily 
dirty-minded school. I was at the time completely 
innocent and I had considerable difficulty in conceal- 

Childhood • 75 

ing from him the fact that it was only with the most 
heroic effort that I was preventing myself from being 
sick. However I soon recovered; one had indeed to de- 
velop a strong stomach in things sexual to stand up 
against the atmosphere of the school when I first 
went there. The facts are worth recording because 
they showed me for the first time at a very early age 
the enormous influence a few boys at the top of a 
school exercise upon the minds and behaviour of the 
masses below them. And what is true of a school is 
true also, I think, of almost every community or so- 
ciety of persons engaged in a common purpose or liv- 
ing in close relationship. 

At the age of twelve I was not prudish, for I was 
much too innocent, and I do not think that I have 
ever been prudish after the nasty little X removed 
my innocence. But I have never known anything like 
the nastiness— corruption is hardly too strong a word 
—of the minds and even to some extent bodies of the 
little boys in Arlington House when I first went 
there. I instinctively disliked it at the time and, when 
I look back on it, it rather horrifies me even today. It 
was entirely due to two or three boys at the top of the 
school. They set the unsavoury tone and dictated the 
unpleasant manners of all the rest of us. I think they 
were rather older than boys usually are in a prepara- 
tory school, being stranded there as they were too 
stupid to pass even the entrance examination for a 
public school. They therefore very soon left in a 
bunch and my brother Herbert became captain of 
the school and I succeeded him. Herbert was some- 
thing of a Puritan and refused to allow what the pre- 

7^ • Sowing 

vious "monitors" had encouraged. I followed his ex- 
ample, and, as we were both strict disciplinarians, 
when I left for St. Paul's in 1894, the atmosphere had 
changed from that of a sordid brothel to that more 
appropriate to fifty fairly happy small boys under the 
age of fourteen. 

No attempt of any kind was made at this school to 
educate us to become intelligent and responsible 
members of English society. On the contrary, in so 
far as anything was done at all, it was calculated to 
make us unfit to live in any free, civilized society. We 
were taught nothing of contemporary events, and we 
were never given the slightest hint that what one 
learned could have any relation to the life one lived 
and would have to live. There was not a corner or 
crevice in Mr. Burman's mind which was not obsti- 
nately conservative. The only comment that I re- 
member him to have made on public events was con- 
tinual abuse of Mr. Gladstone, whom he regarded as 
the author of all evil. One day when the school was 
walking back from Brill's Baths along the front, Mr. 
and Mrs. Gladstone drove by in an open victoria. All 
the way people recognized him and many waved or 
took their hats off, and he bowed continually and 
took his hat off to them. He did not look at all the 
kind of criminal anarchist and traitor whose portrait 
Mr. Burman had drawn for us. My instinct has been, 
from a very early age, to disbelieve anything which I 
am told "on authority" or at the least not to believe 
it. At the age of thirteen, I think I had already seen 
far enough through the headmaster to accept every- 
thing he said, except on the subject of Latin verbs 

Childhood • y^ 

and the like, with some reserve, and the sight of Mr. 
Gladstone's eagle-like eminence sunning itself in the 
victoria confirmed my silent determination, since 
Mr. Burman was a conservative, to be myself a liberal. 

One of the boys at the school was a grandson of 
John Bright. Mr. Burman never tired of gibing at 
him for having such an abominable grandfather. 
This was typical of what the masters at a first-class 
bourgeois preparatory school thought funny in the 
1890's. But for pedagogic lack of humour the follow- 
ing is hard to beat. The French master at Arlington 
House was a M. Marot, who claimed to be descended 
from a long line of Counts. He used to ride a horse 
which was peculiarly angular, and to our eyes he rode 
very badly. One day when returning from cricket we 
saw him riding on the front, and, meeting him later 
in the school, my brother outrageously said to him: 
"We saw you riding the old cow. Sir." M. Marot, who 
went purple in the face when angry, solemnly pun- 
ished Herbert by making him write out 500 times: "I 
must not call M. Marot's horse a cow." 

I wish I could recall vividly what it felt like to be a 
boy of twelve or thirteen at a private school in 
Brighton in 1893. ^ have a dim remembrance of it 
and what I do remember is not at all like the usual 
picture presented to us by adults, whether parents, 
educationists, or novelists. There were intervals of 
terrific energy and high spirits, when, for instance, 
one was playing games or the whole school was romp- 
ing about the garden or the gym. Otherwise one 
seemed to live in a condition of almost suspended ani- 
mation, a kind of underwater existence, for my men- 

7^ • Sowing 

tal world had for me something of the dim, green 
twilight which the physical world must have pre- 
sented, I thought, in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand 
Leagues Under the Sea. It was a dream world; but it 
was the actual world of school that one seemed to be 
dreaming half awake, and always with the feeling 
that one was just about fully to wake up. I wanted to 
wake up and, at the same time, was half afraid of do- 
ing so. Now at the age of nearly eighty I am doubtful 
whether I ever have. 

One of the reasons for my mental twilight was, I 
am sure, that I wanted to use my mind, but practi- 
cally nothing was done to help one to do so— indeed, 
for the most part one was discouraged from doing so. 
At home, my mother encouraged us from an early 
age to read "good" books, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, 
but it is a remarkable fact that until the age of six- 
teen, when at St. Paul's I got into A. M. Cook's form, 
none of my teachers, except Mr. Floyd, ever sug- 
gested to me that it was possible to read a work of 
literature or other serious book for pleasure. 

I was not unhappy at my private school; indeed, I 
was usually quite happy, but it was the happiness of 
someone only half awake. Looking back, out of the 
welter of dimly remembered things I can recall a few 
which I enjoyed immensely. First and most impor- 
tant, food— to be taken out and given a lunch of steak 
and kidney pudding and ices at Mutton's on the 
front, after weeks of the rather nasty school food, was 
marvellous, and I can still recall the deliciousness of 
a large, hot Cowley bath bun which we were allowed 
to buy after bathing in Brill's Baths. Then sights— 

Childhood • yy 

there was a clump of valerian in the garden and on 
a hot summer day one could watch the humming- 
bird hawk moths, two or three at a time, come to it. I 
remember too another entrancing sight connected 
with butterflies. In the spring we were always taken 
in coaches for the school treat to Laugh ton to have a 
picnic and wander about the woods. And down the 
glades, which in recollection seem to me to have been 
carpeted, as they now never are, with spring flowers, 
glided in the dappled sunlight, with that extraordi- 
nary velvety flight of theirs, dozens of the Pearlbor- 
dered Fritillary. I can also recall that it was at Arling- 
ton House that I first experienced intense pleasure 
connected with reading. In very bad weather and in 
the late afternoon of Sundays, the whole school sat in 
the big schoolroom in silence and read books which 
one could take out of a large cupboard containing 
the ''school library." Under the gas jets, on winter 
evenings, a great fire burning in the huge fireplace, 
in the silence and comfortable fug, I suddenly found 
myself transported from the rather boring and always 
uncertain life to which one had been arbitrarily and 
inexplicably committed to the strangest, most beauti- 
ful, and entrancing world of Twenty Thousand 
Leagues Under the Sea or The Log of the Flying 
Fish. There is no doubt that I then experienced some 
of the exquisite pleasure, some purging of the pas- 
sions, that later came to me, as to Aristotle, from 
more orthodox literary masterpieces. 

In the autumn of 1893 ^ went to St. Paul's School 
in West Kensington, plunging with a shiver into a 
much larger and tougher world than I had known 

7^ • Sowing 

hitherto. There I at once began to develop the cara- 
pace, the facade, which, if our sanity is to survive, we 
must learn to present to the outside and usually hos- 
tile world as a protection to the naked, tender, shiver- 
ing soul. At least, I suppose this is true. I have never 
known anyone who had no carapace or facade at all, 
but I have known people who had extraordinarily 
little, who seemed wonderfully direct, simple, spir- 
itually unveiled. They may be highly intelligent and 
intellectual, but this nakedness of the soul gives them 
always a streak of the simpleton. They are, indeed, 
the simpletons— Koteliansky used to translate the 
Russian word as "sillies"— the "sillies" whom Tolstoy 
thought were the best people in the world. There was 
something of the "silly" in Virginia, as I always told 
her and she agreed, and there was a streak of the 
"silly" in Moore. Obviously there is something re- 
markably good in these streaks, and perhaps if any- 
one had the courage to be a complete "silly," to have 
no facade at all, he would get on just as well as, or 
better than, the tortoises, the timid souls who live 
their whole lives behind a shell or mask. 

I am afraid that there was never a touch of the 
"silly" in me and I soon developed a carapace, which, 
as the years went past, grew ever thicker and more 
elaborate. The facade tends with most people, I sup- 
pose, as the years go by, to grow inward, so that what 
began as a protection and screen of the naked soul 
becomes itself the soul. This is part of that gradual 
loss of individuality which happens to nearly every- 
one and the hardening of the arteries of the mind 
which is even more common and more deadly than 


Childhood • yp 

of those of the body. At any rate, I certainly began to 
grow my shell at St. Paul's about the age of fourteen, 
and, being naturally of an introspective nature, I was 
always half-conscious of doing so. What the facade 
hides or is intended to hide in other people can 
rarely be known with certainty, and the psycho- 
analysts would probably hold that it is even more 
difficult to know what lies behind one's own. I sus- 
pect that the male carapace is usually grown to con- 
ceal cowardice. Certainly in my own case, I believe, 
the character which I invented to face the world with 
originated, to a very large extent, in fear, in mental, 
moral, or physical cowardice. It was the fear of ridi- 
cule or disapproval if one revealed one's real thoughts 
or feelings, and sometimes the fear of revealing one's 
fears, that prompted one to invent that kind of sec- 
ond-hand version of oneself which might provide for 
one's original self the safety of a permanent alibi. 
When I said above that I was half-conscious of doing 
this, I did not mean that I did it deliberately; I did 
it instinctively, but, being introspective, was half- 
conscious that a mask was forming over my face, a 
shell over my soul. 

I was five years at St. Paul's, from 1894 to 1899, 
when I went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. My 
education, in the technical and strict sense of the 
word, began at the beginning and ended at the end 
of those five years at school, for though I learned 
many and very important things in my five years at 
Cambridge, they were not the educational things 
which schools and universities are expected to teach 
one. The education which one received at St. Paul's 

8o • Sowing 

in the last decade of the nineteenth century was Spar- 
tan in its intellectual toughness and severity. It was 
devised and enforced by the highmaster, F. W. 
Walker, a most curious and alarming man. He was a 
short but solid man, with a red face, rather bloodshot 
eyes, a straggly beard, a very wide mouth showing 
black teeth, blackened by the perpetual smoking of 
strong cigars. He had a deep and raucous voice of 
immense volume, and he usually roared with it as 
though in a violent rage, so that one often heard the 
bellow of the ''old man," as of an enraged bull, echo- 
ing down the corridors or through the hall. The "old 
man" had developed and encouraged in himself the 
one-sidedness and eccentricity which are the occupa- 
tional diseases of schoolmasters; he acted his part 
with such conscious vigour that he was almost a stage 
schoolmaster. I do not know anything of his private 
life, but I should guess that he only cared for two 
things, first an amalgam of St. Paul's School and 
Greek and Latin, and second an amalgam of good 
food, good drink, and good cigars. 

I was as a boy, and am now, concerned with only 
the first amalgam, for it determined my education 
and the equipment of my mind. Despite, or because 
of, his barbarity and fanaticism, the old man became 
a great headmaster, for, whether the school and the 
education are judged to be good or bad, they had a 
character of their own and were created by him. His 
vision of the school and education was narrow and 
fanatical. The object of a public school was, in his 
view, to give the boys the severest and most classical 
of classical educations. He seemed to be interested 

Childhood • 8i 

only in the clever boys and his object was to turn 
them into brilliant classical scholars. I think that he 
and his son, whom he had succeeded in turning into 
one of the most brilliant of Balliol scholars, the win- 
ner of every kind of academic prize and honour, had 
a genuine love for scholarship and even for classical 
literature, but their love had become fused and lost 
in a mixture of classics and St. Paul's School, of schol- 
arship and scholarships. For the one test of whether 
St. Paul's School was doing what the "old man" 
wanted it to do had become in his view the number 
and quality of the scholarships which the pupils year 
by year won at Oxford and Cambridge colleges. It 
was generally felt that something would be wrong 
with the universe and with the school if in any year 
St. Paul's did not win more Oxford and Cambridge 
scholarships than any other public school and, at the 
least, one Balliol scholarship at Oxford and one 
Trinity scholarship at Cambridge. And in the 1890's 
there was usually nothing wrong with the universe or 
the school. 

In order to turn small boys into scholars the high- 
master had devised an extraordinarily intensive sys- 
tem of teaching Latin and Greek. If you came to the 
school without a scholarship, you were shuffled off at 
once into an appropriate form, on the classical side if 
you seemed to be fairly bright, but if not so bright, 
on the army, science, or history side. If you had won 
a scholarship, you were not at once drafted into an 
ordinary form; you were put into what ^vas called 
/'the Hall." Physically it was the school hall in which 
the whole school assembled daily for prayers and oc- 

82 ' Sowing 

casionally for functions like the annual prize-giving, 
called the Apposition. I, with all the other scholars of 
my year, was immediately put into "the Hall" under 
Mr. Pantin, a kindly but melancholy master. There 
we sat for a whole term day after day for the whole 
school day doing Greek and Latin composition. We 
did absolutely nothing else. At the end of it, the 
foundations of the ancient Greek and Latin lan- 
guages—their grammar, syntax, vocabulary— had been 
ground into me as thoroughly as the multiplication 
tables by Mr. Floyd. They had become part of the 
permanent furniture of my mind. And this process 
of laying the foundations of scholarship was carried 
out by Mr. Pantin under the personal and terrifying 
supervision of the highmaster. At least once a day, 
and sometimes more often, the doors of the hall 
would be flung open and with an ominous swish of 
his gown the "old man" would sail in and flop down, 
with a growl and a grunt, on the form next to one of 
us. He then with great care corrected his victim's 
work in a curiously thin and palsied handwriting, 
with growls and grumblings and occasionally a roar 
of rage. As he did this almost daily for a whole ternl, 
he got to know personally at once each boy who had 
won a scholarship and could judge their intellectual 
capacities, i.e., whether X was a potential Balliol or 
Trinity scholar and whether Y would never be likely 
to get anything better than an exhibition at one of 
the smaller colleges. 

The highmaster's character and methods were early 
revealed to me by the following incident. One after- 
noon a few weeks after I had been handed over to 

Childhood • 8^ 

Mr. Pantin and his educational machine for produc- 
ing classical pate de foie gras, the highmaster swept 
into the hall and sat down on the form by my side. 
He turned and looked at me with a terrifying leer 
which revealed a satyr's mouth full of black and de- 
caying teeth. He did not say anything until he had 
finished correcting my work. When he had put the 
pen down, he turned and gave me another leer. 
"Boy," he roared at me, with a roar, not of rage, but 
of good humour, "boy, your mother has been to see 
me. Your mother did not like me." He then patted 
me on the head and went off to another apprehensive 
small boy. When I got home in the evening I heard 
from my mother, almost in tears, the story of her in- 
terview with Mr. Walker. She was, not unnaturally, 
very proud of my having won a scholarship at St. 
Paul's and had asked for an interview with the high- 
master in order to discuss with him my brilliant fu- 
ture. She had, I suppose, expected to receive congrat- 
ulations on being the mother of such a clever small 
boy. Alas, her lamb was torn to pieces. The boy, said 
Mr. Walker, had been badly taught; his Latin was 
hopelessly bad and his Greek worse. He knew no 
grammar and no syntax; he could not do Latin or 
Greek composition, and his translation was not much 
better; it was doubtful whether anything could be 
done with him. After five or ten minutes of this kind 
of tirade, he paused, and my mother, only just re- 
straining her tears, said: "But, Mr. Walker, what can 
I do?" ''Do, Mrs. Woolf," roared the highmaster, 
''do? You've done enough." And he got up, walked to 
the door, and opened it for my mother to go out. The 

84 • Sowing 

interview was over, and the highmaster had attained 
what was, no doubt, his object: my mother never 
again asked for an interview to discuss her son's fu- 

The potential scholar, having spent a term in "the 
Hall," was then drafted into the classical form which 
Mr. Pantin and the highmaster considered appropri- 
ate. Until you reached the classical VIII form, you 
also did for a few hours a week French and mathe- 
matics; when you got into the VIII, you did nothing 
but Latin and Greek. But if you were on the classical 
side, nothing was considered to be of the slightest im- 
portance but Latin and Greek. The classical fanati- 
cism of St. Paul's in those days may be seen in this. I 
was, I think, put into the Upper IV for classics, when 
I escaped from "the Hall." Although I had got a 
classical scholarship, I was, in fact, better at mathe- 
matics than classics. I was, therefore, immediately 
moved up into the VII form for mathematics, i.e., the 
top mathematical form on the classical side. It was 
taught by Mr. Pendelbury, a first-class mathemati- 
cian, who had written a first-class school text book. 
And there I sat under Mr. Pendelbury for, I think,, 
three years, never learning anything more than I 
learnt in the first year, because there was no higher 
form into which I could be moved and I had to do 
what each yearly succession of boys did in mathemati- 
cal Form VII on the classical side. 

When I reached the classical VIII form, I did noth- 
ing but classics, as I have said. And the intensiveness 
of the St. Paul's system may be seen from this. When 
I got into the top form of all, the Upper VIII, three 

Childhood • 8^ 

or four of the most promising boys (of whom I was 
one) were withdrawn from the ordinary work of the 
form for a whole term before they were due to take 
the Oxford or Cambridge scholarship examinations. 
Every day we went to the highmaster's house and sat 
with the highmaster's son, "Dick" Walker, the great 
Balliol scholar, who made us all day long translate 
aloud in turn, without preparation. Homer, Virgil, 
or some other classical work. In this way we read, so 
far as I can remember, straight through the whole of 
the Iliad and the Aeneidj some dialogues of Plato and 
some Tacitus. We did nothing else at all. It gave one, 
at any rate for a time, a considerable Latin and 
Greek vocabulary and some mastery of the art of 
translating at sight. "Dick" Walker had such a phe- 
nomenal memory that, when we were translating 
Homer and Virgil, he did not use a book; he knew 
it all by heart so accurately that he could correct us 
if we made a mistake without looking at the text. 

I said, some pages back, that I wished that I could 
recall vividly what it felt like to be the small boy who 
left Arlington House, Brighton, for St. Paul's School, 
West Kensington, about the age of fourteen. I have 
no doubt that deep down within me, beneath the 
facade, the carapace secreted by my soul, and beneath 
the psychological sediment and sludge of sixty years, 
that little boy still exists intact, so vulnerable, sensi- 
tive, eager, nasty, and nice. But I cannot summon 
him, even like a spirit, from the depths into my con- 
sciousness; I can see or feel him merely as a very dim, 
rather melancholy, emanation of myself. The youth 
of eighteen who left St. Paul's School for Trinity Col- 

86 • Sowing 

lege, Cambridge, in 1899 is the same and yet so differ- 
ent. It would be an exaggeration to say that I can 
recall vividly what it felt like to be he or that I can 
remember exactly how he developed out of the small 
boy in the five years between 1894 and 1899. But 
there is no need to try to call him up from the 
depths; he moves recognizably within me, in my 
heart, my brain, and (if I have a soul) in my soul. For 
in developing into what he developed into, he de- 
veloped into me. 

I had walked into St. Paul's School in 1894 a small 
boy; I walked out of it in 1899 a young man. This 
passage from boyhood to manhood is in many re- 
spects the most difficult and painful period psycho- 
logically of one's life. The human caterpillar and 
chrysalis, infant and boy, emerges as butterfly or 
moth; in my own case, I may perhaps be said to have 
emerged as that appropriately named variety of 
moth, the Setaceous Hebrew Character. The meta- 
morphosis is much more commonly painful— and 
more painful— than novels and autobiographies ad- 
mit or depict. I can, of course, speak only for my 
generation, now old, dead or dying. The modern in- 
fant and child, because happier, may perhaps find the 
passage less difficult, but there are signs that even he 
does not find it easy. First, one experiences the iron, 
ruthless impact of society upon the eager, tender, 
naked ego, upon the "dear little fleeting soul," the 
animula, vagula, blandula, as Hadrian called it. It 
would be difficult to exaggerate the instinctive nasti- 
ness of human beings which is to be observed in the 
infant and child no less than in middle or old age. 

Childhood • 8y 

To call it original sin is absurd, for it would mean 
that we accept as true metaphysical fairy tales or reli- 
gious nightmares. It is safer to recall and state the 
bare facts without inventing explanations like the 
Platonic ideas, Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus Christ. The 
fact is that at the age of ten I was a fully developed 
human being, mean, cowardly, untruthful, nasty, and 
cruel, just as I was at twenty, fifty, and seventy. And 
when I observed my companions' actions or caught a 
glimpse of their thoughts behind the masks of their 
faces or the curtain of their words, I recognized in 
them the same intimations of immorality. Yet at the 
same time there was in all of us— or nearly all of us— 
I am sure, that animula, vagula, blandula, the gentle, 
eager, inquisitive, generous, vulnerable guest and 
companion of our bodies which seemed to have little 
or no connection with that other tough guest and 
comrade of the same body. And it was this vulnerable 
inhabitant of our bodies over which the irresistible 
steam-roller of society pounded in whatever private 
or public school to which our parents happened to 
have sent us, flattening us all out in the image of 
manliness or gentlemanliness which our parents or 
lords and masters considered appropriate. Whether 
the Hyde is more real than the Jekyll, or vice versa, 
in most human beings, I do not know. I had a feel- 
ing, and still have it, that my animula, vagula, blan- 
dula was somehow or other more real, more myself, 
than the nasty little tough who was, as I thought, 
deep down and usually out of sight. I daresay that 
both of these beliefs were illusions. To one of my 
brothers I was pure Mr. Hyde, though he never re- 

88 • Sowing 

vealed this to me until he was over sixty and I over 
seventy in the bitterest letter which I have ever re- 

Having read Genesis and its story of Cain and 
Abel, and later Freud and his elaboration of it, the 
terrible story of the murderous hatred (suppressed of 
course) of son for father, father for son, and brother 
for brother, I ought not to have been astonished by 
this letter. But I was, not so much because my 
brother so obviously hated me or had seen the so 
carefully concealed Hyde behind the Jekyll. What 
shocked me and saddened me was that I should have 
known someone intimately for over half a century 
and liked him, and never in all those years been aware 
of his hatred and contempt of me. When in Ceylon I 
for the first time saw in the jungle what nature was 
really like in the crude relation of beast to beast, I 
was shocked and at first even disgusted at the cold 
savagery, the pitiless cruelty. But when I contemplate 
the jungle of human relations, I feel that here are 
savageries and hatreds— illuminated by Zeus, Jupiter, 
Jehovah, Christ, or Dr. Freud— which make the tiger 
and the viper seem gentle, charitable, tender-hearted. 

Let me go back to St. Paul's School, through which 
I passed on my road to puberty, manliness, and 
gentlemanliness. My brother's letter shows that my 
preceptors and guides failed to put my feet on the 
path which would have landed me in the inner circle 
of gentlemanliness. But in my journey from form to 
form and from birthday to birthday I passed in- 
evitably to the other two destinations, puberty and 
manhood. Sexually the passage to puberty was almost 

Childhood • 8p 

always for my generation a painful and unpleasant 
business; it certainly was in my case. The first time 
I ever had violent physical sexual sensations was as 
a very small boy when, in bed with a cold, I was 
reading a book called, I think, The Scottish Chief- 
tains. The sensations astonished me; they came upon 
me as I read the description of how one of the chief- 
tains—can it have been Wallace?— dashed down a hill 
and flung himself— without impropriety, I am sure— 
upon a lady who was being carried in a litter. I was 
puzzled by the involuntary physical phenomenon; 
vaguely I thought it must be somehow or other 
connected with the cold in my head, but it is perhaps 
significant that, despite my innocence, I did not re- 
port the symptom either to my nurse or to my 
mother. The facts about copulation and the birth of 
children were explained to me, as I have said, by a 
small boy at my private school in the worst possible 
way and to some extent inaccurately— I was left in 
some doubt as to the sexual functions of the female 
navel— when I was twelve years old. I remained a 
virgin until the age of twenty-five; the manner in 
which I lost my virginity in Jaffna, the Tamil town 
in the north of Ceylon, I will relate in a later chap- 
ter. In the thirteen years of chastity and youth which 
intervened, my mind and body were continually har- 
ried and harassed, persecuted and plagued, some- 
times one might even say tormented and tortured, 
by the nagging of sexual curiosity and desire. Ho^v 
dense the barbaric darkness was in which the Vic- 
torian middle-class boy and youth was left to drift 
sexually is shown by the fact that no relation or 

po • Sowing 

teacher, indeed no adult, ever mentioned the subject 
of sex to me. No information or advice on this 
devastating fever in one's blood and brain was ever 
given to me. Love and lust, like the functions of the 
bowels and bladder, were subjects which could not 
be discussed or even mentioned. The effect of this 
was, I believe, wholly bad, leading to an unhealthy 
obsession and a buttoning up of mind and emotion. 
This withdrawal of the self into the inner recesses 
of one's being behind the facade and the series of 
psychological curtains which one interposed between 
oneself and the outside world of "other people" 
seems to me, looking back, to have been one of the 
dominant features in the progress from childhood 
to manhood. I was not an unhappy youth and we 
were not an unhappy family. I have already told of 
the reversal of economic fortune which fell upon us 
owing to my father's death when I was twelve. When 
we got rid of the white elephant of a house in Lex- 
ham Gardens, my mother took her six sons, three 
daughters, a cook, a parlourmaid, and a housemaid 
to a house in Colinette Road, Putney. It was an 
ugly Victorian house, but "detached," with a small 
piece of garden in front and a largish square garden 
with fruit trees behind. To get thirteen human be- 
ings into it was a squeeze, and it seemed at first very 
small after the spaciousness of Lexham Gardens. 
Considering the squeeze and the reversal of fortune, 
we were an unusually amicable family, and quarrels, 
though sometimes violent, were rare. I was third in 
the family, and I think that the change from wealth 
to comparative poverty made the eldest three chil- 

Childhood • ^i 

dren prematurely serious and grown up. My mother 
told us exactly where we stood; at the age of thirteen 
I knew that I must think carefully before I spent a 
sixpence or even a sixth of sixpence and that my 
future depended upon my brain and its capacity to 
win scholarships. 

All this gave us— or at least me— as children a kind 
of grown-up seriousness. A sudden reversal of for- 
tune when one is a child impresses upon one, though 
one is not conscious of it at the time, a sense of the 
precariousness of life, the instability of one's environ- 
ment. I know in fact the exact moment when that 
sense of instability came to me for the first time in 
my life. To a Londoner, the rhythm of London 
traffic is part of the rhythm of his blood and of his 
life. I was born to the rhythm of horses' hoofs in 
broughams, hansom cabs, and four-wheelers clatter- 
ing down London streets, and body and blood have 
never completely synchronized their beat to the whir 
and roar and hoot of cars. One of my earliest recollec- 
tions is of lying in bed high up in a front room of 
the house in Lexham Gardens, night after night, 
listening to the clop, clop, clop of a horse in a car- 
riage or hansom cab break the silence of the night as 
it came down the street past our house. Clop, clop, 
clop— somehow or other that noise from outside gave 
one a sense of security, stability as one hugged one- 
self together under the bedclothes. 

Reversal of fortune— to be on top of the ^vorld and 
next moment to be floundering in a bottomless pit, 
to feel the ground give way under one's feet, the 
bottom fall out of one's world— the Greek Sophocles 

p2 • Sowing 

recognized as the essence of tragedy. It retains its 
essence whether in the cosmic tragedy of Oedipus or 
the parochial tragedy of an eleven-year-old boy in 
nineteenth-century Kensington. The moment came 
to me in bed listening to the horse's hoofs fading 
away down Lexham Gardens. I remember it as the 
night before my father died and that somehow or 
other— perhaps from overhearing the hushed voices 
of servants— I was aware that he was dying and that 
his death meant not only the disaster of his death, the 
loss of him, but also the complete break-up and 
destruction of life as I had known it. And in this 
curious vision of the future I saw that we were going 
to be "poor." I say that I remember the moment as 
coming on the night before my father died, but it is 
possible, indeed probable, that my memory is mis- 
taken, for it is strange that a child of eleven should 
have been able and allowed to know so much before 
the catastrophe. But whether it was the night before 
or the night after death entered, I know the sense 
of security and stability had suddenly vanished; I 
could no longer, listening to the horse's hoofs, hug 
myself in the haven of the bedclothes. The bottom 
had fallen out of the life and the house in Lexham 

From that moment a kind of unchildlike serious- 
ness came into my life, a sense of responsibility and 
of the insecurity of material things like houses, food, 
money. It did not make me unhappy or, after the 
first shock, worry me. We were, as I have said, a 
cheerful and united family, lively, energetic, adven- 
turous. I had and still have a passion for any kind of 

Childhood • p^ 

game from chess or bowls to cricket and fives. I was 
quite a respectable bat and could play a respectable 
game at tennis or fives. I therefore enjoyed that im- 
portant side of private and public school life which 
was concerned with games. At home we used to play 
cricket for hours in the back garden with a tennis 
ball and elaborate rules for scoring runs. My eldest 
brother, Herbert, and I developed very early a pas- 
sion for bicycling. He must have been about twelve 
and I eleven when he acquired on his birthday his 
first bicycle. It was before the days of pneumatic 
tyres, and we took the incredibly heavy and clumsy 
machine out into Lexham Gardens in order to ac- 
quire the art of riding. After a few minutes' practice 
he allowed me to try my hand, or, rather, legs. The 
seat was too high for me and I could only just reach 
the pedals, but he gave me a shove and I went off 
with great speed along the gutter, such speed indeed 
that I collided violently with a lamp post and the 
bicycle split in two, the handlebars and front wheel 
going in one direction, the back wheel, seat, and 
myself in another. Later we became experts and 
connoisseurs, saving up our money to buy cycles 
from a famous cycle shop in Holborn. I got ex- 
quisite pleasure from a cycle with handlebars like 
ram's horns and yellow rims to the wheels. Every 
day I bicycled to school from Putney to Hammer- 
smith. In the holidays Herbert and I went on bicycle 
tours. We cycled all over England incredibly cheaply, 
for we could not afford to spend more than a fe^v 
shillings a day. Our first expedition was to Oxford, 
Stratford, Evesham, and the West Country; our 

^4 ' Sowing 

longest was to Edinburgh. When I was sixteen, we 
took our cycles by sea to the north of the Shetlands 
and cycled down to Lerwick. No one cycled there at 
that time, and we were looked upon as bold adven- 
turers. But one rainy night we were taken in and 
given beds in a small farmhouse. We were sitting 
round the fire after supper when there was a knock 
at the door, and there, to everyone's amazement, was 
another cyclist. He was a young Aberdonian travel- 
ling in soap. As we sat talking after he had eaten his 
eggs and bacon, he saw my father's crest on a book- 
plate in a book I had been reading. The crest was 
a wolf's head with the motto thoroughly under it. 
"I have a crest too," he said in his strong accent, "ay, 
and a coat of arms. The crest is a cat's head and the 
motto is SANS purr; what d'you think of that, lad?" 
At the age of fifteen or sixteen, therefore, we did 
what most boys do, and, on the surface, as boyishly. 
Yet, beneath the surface, the reversal of fortune had 
had, I am sure, a darkening and permanent effect. 
In my own case I can only describe it as this sense 
of fundamental insecurity, and a fatalistic acceptance 
of instability and the impermanence of happiness. 
This fatalism has given me a philosophy of life, a 
sceptical faith which has stood me in good stead 
in the worst moments of life's horrors and miseries. 
For just as, though I believe passionately in the 
truth of some things, I believe passionately that you 
cannot be certain of the absolute truth of anything, 
so too, though I feel passionately that certain things 
matter profoundly, I feel profoundly in the depths of 
my being that in the last resort nothing matters. The 

Childhood • p^ 

belief in the importance of truth and the impossi- 
bility of absolute truth, the conviction that, though 
things rightly matter profoundly to you and me, 
nothing matters— this mental and emotional meta- 
physic or attitude towards the universe produces the 
sceptical tolerance which is an essential part of civili- 
zation and helps one to bear with some decency or 
even dignity the worst of Hamlet's slings and arrows 
of outrageous fortune. 

This premature awareness of the seriousness of life 
accelerated my passage from childhood to manhood 
and increased the withdrawal of the self into the 
innermost recesses. Looking back I can see now that 
there was another thing which strongly encouraged 
that withdrawal. Though I was not conscious of it 
for many years, indeed not until I was a young man, 
from the first moment of my existence, perhaps even 
before I left my mother's womb, I must have been 
a "born intellectual." The reading of books gave me 
immense pleasure, but so did "work" or lessons. 
Teachers in the days of my childhood and youth 
practically never explained to their pupils what they 
were teaching. For instance, mathematics, particu- 
larly algebra, gave me great satisfaction, though I 
was never told and never understood until years 
afterwards at Cambridge, when I read Whitehead's 
little book Mathematics, what on earth it was all 
about. This satisfaction which I got from mathe- 
matics is, I think, closely related to the aesthetic 
pleasure which came from poetry, pictures, and, most 
of all, in later years from music. But there were also 
in it the curious ecstasy which comes from feeling 

p(5 • Sowing 

the mind work smoothly and imaginatively upon 
difficult and complicated problems, the excitement of 
the ruthless pursuit of truth which, perhaps, never 
entirely leaves one, but which is so intense when one 
is very young, and finally that astonishing and as- 
tonished happiness, described by Keats, which comes 
to one when some new constellation of thought, 
some new vision of a profound truth swims into one's 

All the characteristics which I have just described 
are the stigmata of the incorrigible, the born intellec- 
tual. England for considerably more than one hun- 
dred years has been the most philistine of all 
European countries. This, I suspect, is largely due 
to the public schools, which during the period 
gradually established a dominating influence on pub- 
lic life and imposed upon the whole nation their 
prejudices, habits, morals, and standards of value. 
The public school was the nursery of British philis- 
tinism. To work, to use the mind, to be a ''swot," as 
it was called in my school days, was to become an 
untouchable (except for the purposes of bullying) in 
the hierarchy of the public-school caste system. Pub- 
licly to have confessed that one enjoyed any of these 
things would have been as impossible as for a respect- 
able Victorian young lady publicly to confess un- 
chastity and that she had enjoyed it. Overtly the 
only standard of human value against which the boy 
was measured was athleticism. Use of the mind, 
intellectual curiosity, mental originality, interest in 
**work," enjoyment of books or anything connected 
with the arts, all such things, if detected, were vio- 

Childhood • p7 

lently condemned and persecuted. The intellectual 
was, as he still is widely today, disliked and despised. 
This attitude was not confined to the boys; it was 
shared and encouraged by nearly all the masters. 

This contempt of our teachers for what they were 
teaching and for the boy who wanted to be taught 
was on the face of it remarkable, but it was really 
natural and inevitable. In the kind of school to which 
I went nearly all the masters had been educated 
themselves in public schools; so too probably had 
their fathers before them. Instinctively and uncon- 
sciously and unquestioningly they accepted the stan- 
dards of value and practised the precepts of public- 
school tradition. They therefore naturally despised 
the intellect and the arts and anything connected 
with them, and, so, any small boy who showed any 
unusual intellectual ability or interest. To be a swot 
was just as despicable in the eyes of the masters as 
in those of the boys. The headmaster of my private 
school, Mr. Burman, as I have said, was the kindest 
and most generous of men; indeed, I owe a gxeat 
debt of gratitude to him, for after the reversal of our 
fortunes he took me and all my brothers one after 
the other at greatly reduced fees. But he was a philis- 
tine of the philistines, a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, a 
pure and perfect product of public-school tradition. 
By the age of fourteen I had learnt from him and the 
fifty small boys about me that one of the most despi- 
cable of things was to be too intelligent— and that 
you had to be pretty unintelligent if you wanted to 
be not too intelligent. Every master who taught me 
until I reached the age of sixteen or seventeen ac- 

p5 • Sowing 

cepted and inculcated the same doctrine and ethic. 

From my very early years I have had in me, I 
think, a streak of considerable obstinacy. I was lam- 
entably intelligent, and, as I have said, I liked to feel 
the mind work. I was a born swot, for I enjoyed my 
work. I was, of course, not fully or definitely con- 
scious of this or of the hostility towards it in the 
world around me, for in childhood and youth, 
though one feels acutely what goes on in one's own 
head and in the heads of other people and their often 
painful interactions, owing to inexperience and diffi- 
dence one rarely fully understands or acknowledges 
what is going on. So I felt, but only dimly under- 
stood, the hostility of Mr. Burman and of boys and 
masters at Arlington House and St. Paul's to what I 
now see made me a horrid little intellectual. But, 
because at the back of my mind and in the pit of my 
stomach I had this little hard core of obstinacy, I 
never accepted the standards of value of Mr. Burman 
and of my environment. I did not rebel against them 
or openly challenge them, but I learned very early, 
I think, to go my own way behind the shutters of my 
mind and to be silent about much which went on 

Being quite good at games and thoroughly enjoy- 
ing them, I was able to carry this off and escape the 
penalties which awaited an intellectual in English 
schools in the last years of the nineteenth century. I 
was never bullied and, unlike many of my future 
friends, was never actively miserable at school. But 
my modus vivendi with masters and boys was attained 
only by the concealment or repression of a large 


Childhood • 5>p 

area of my mental life which had the highest signifi- 
cance for me, and that was how the withdrawal of the 
ego into inner recesses, of which I write above, was 
encouraged and increased. 

I was sixteen before I met anyone among my 
companions or teachers who showed any sympathy 
with the side of my life which I had sedulously con- 
cealed. When I went up into the VIII form— I think 
it was the Lower Middle VIII— the master was A. M. 
Cook, a brother of the editor of The Daily News. 
Cook was an extremely cultivated man; everything 
about him was quiet but strong, including his passion 
for the arts and his sense of humour. He spotted my 
inclinations and capacities, I think, owing to my 
English essays (he made us take the writing of essays 
very seriously). At any rate, he quite soon asked me 
to walk round the playground with him during the 
morning break, and for the remainder of the time 
that I was in his form we always spent this quarter 
of an hour together. I owe an enormous debt to 
A. M. Cook. He talked to me not as a master to a 
pupil or as an adult to a boy, but as an equal to an 
equal, on the assumption that we both accepted the 
same standards of intellectual and artistic value and 
obligations of truth. His taste was both strict and 
catholic. He encouraged me to read very widely and 
at the same time always to exercise my own judgment 
upon what I read. When I went up into a higher 
form, he gave me a copy of Bacon's Essays, beauti- 
fully bound in pale-blue leather by Zaehnsdorf and 
inscribed in exquisite handwriting: "L. S. Woolf 
first in written work in L.M.8. St. Paul's School 

100 • Sowing 

1897: from AMC." The choice of Bacon's curious 
prose in the pale blue and gold of the Zaehnsdorf 
binding was characteristic of Cook. 

In my last year at school I twice came into contact 
with people who did not despise the intellect and 
the arts. G. K. Chesterton had been at St. Paul's and 
was six years my senior. E. C. Bentley, the author of 
Trent's Last Case and the inventor of the clerihew, 
and R. F. Oldershaw were his contemporaries, and 
they had founded a small debating society which met 
on Saturday afternoons in rotation in the houses of 
the members. Bentley and Oldershaw had gone up to 
Oxford, and, when I knew Bentley first, he was 
President of the Oxford Union. They continued the 
debating society after they had left school. It was 
kept quite small, with only eight or nine members, 
and they elected two or three boys still at school. 
How they came to elect me I cannot remember, but 
I know that I was both surprised and flattered. G. 
K.'s brother Cecil was my contemporary and a mem- 
ber; two other boys still at school were, I think, 
elected at the same time as I was.* One was called 
Myers and the other d'Avigdor, and it is amusing, 
in view of the subsequent violent anti-Semitism of 
the Chestertons, to note that three out of the four 
boys still at school whom they elected to this very 
exclusive society were Jews. 

It was a queer society. The Chestertons were 
regular attendants and Bentley and Oldershaw came 

* I rather think that there was a third, namely S. P. Vivian, who 
eventually became a distinguished civil servant, Registrar-General, 
with a knighthood. 

Childhood • loi 

in the vacs. I never liked Cecil Chesterton, partly 
because his physical appearance was so unprepossess- 
ing, and partly because even then he had a streak of 
that kind of fanatical intolerance which seems to be 
fertilized, not by profound convictions, but by per- 
sonal animosities. Gilbert was a very different kind 
of person. The monstrous obesity from which he 
suffered in later life had not yet attacked him, but 
like Cecil, though to a much smaller degree, he was 
physically unprepossessing. Whereas Cecil seemed to 
have a grudge against the universe, the world, and 
you in particular, G. K. gave one the immediate 
impression of good will, particular and general. In 
those days he had already begun to make his name as 
a journalist by writing for The Daily News. Our 
debating society was almost entirely political. It 
sometimes debated a particular political subject and 
sometimes functioned as a "mock parliament." G. K. 
practically never enlivened us with the paradoxical 
brilliance for which he was famous as a writer. My 
memory is of him standing very upright at the table, 
tearing sheets of paper into tiny pieces and dropping 
them on the table, while he spoke at immense length 
on some subject like taxation or bimetallism or the 
Irish question. His speeches were full of facts and 
good solid argument. 

I do not know what eventually happened to this 
society the very name of which I cannot remember. 
(It may have been called The Junior Debater or 
something like that.) After I left school and went up 
to Cambridge, I dropped out of it, if, indeed, it 
continued to exist, and I lost touch with the mem- 

102 • Sowing 

bers, including the Chestertons. Though our little 
debating society had been so exclusively political and 
ignored the arts, my enthusiasm for which had been 
encouraged by Cook, my contact with G. K. and the 
other members did bring a new breath of intellectual 
fresh air into my school life. The atmosphere of 
Philistinism at a public school in the last decade of 
last century was pretty heavy, hostile, menacing to 
any boy who neither in his beliefs nor in his desires 
accepted the philistine's standards. It was not just 
a question of differing in beliefs and tastes. I got on 
quite well with the boys in my form or with whom 
I played cricket, football, and fives, but it would 
have been unsafe, practically impossible, to let them 
know what I really thought or felt about anything 
which seemed to me important. It was therefore a 
surprising relief to find oneself on Saturday after- 
noons with five or six people to whom one could say 
what one thought and who accepted the same intel- 
lectual standards of value whatever our disagreement 
might be about other things. 

In my last year at school, I came across two other 
people to whom I could talk freely. They were both 
with me in the top form, and, as they went up to 
Oxford with scholarships, I never saw them again 
after I left school. They belonged to the class of 
persons of whom unfortunately one has come across 
so many in one's life, the universal rebels who, 
though they do not know it, rebel against the uni- 
verse or capitalism or Mr. Smith because they have 
a personal grudge against something or someone 
(quite often Mrs. Smith). After 1917 very many of 

Childhood • /05 

these unhappy persons were able to sublimate their 
private grudges and hatreds, the torture of real or 
imaginary inferiorities, in the public or oecumenical 
grudges and hatreds of the Communist Party. But 
when I was a young man, Karl Marx and the Russian 
communists had not yet invented the international 
political lunatic asylum of twentieth-century com- 
munism, in which intelligent people can, in the name 
of humanity, satisfy animosities and salve their con- 
sciences. In those days the inferiority complex had 
few public outlets and became a kind of spiritual in- 
growing toe-nail. My two friends, whom I will call 
A and Z, had this kind of ingrowing toe-nail. They 
were virulent intellectuals contra mundum. They 
despised and, I think, hated practically everything 
and everyone at St. Paul's, but they had a genuine 
intellectual curiosity and love of literature. When 
they found that I had the same, though they despised 
me for playing cricket and fives and for being friendly 
with all sorts and kinds of boys, they welcomed me 
as a conversationalist. I used to go into the class-room 
after cricket and about a quarter of an hour before 
afternoon school every day and meet them to stand 
at the window arguing interminably about every- 
thing under the sun. Here too I felt that I could say 
what I thought or felt. As I said, I never saw them 
again after I had left school. A became, I believe, 
a clergyman, and Z committed suicide while still at 
the university. The Church or suicide, it will be 
observed, were to us in the 1890's what the Commu- 
nist Party became to a later generation. 


went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October, 
1899. As a scientific exhibit, whether for individual 
or social psychology, my mind was in a curious state. 
They had turned me at St. Paul's into a pretty good 
classical scholar. In fact, I was good enough to make 
those in authority think that I might carry off the 
blue riband of Balliol, Oxford, or Trinity, Cam- 
bridge. I was therefore taken out of the Upper VIII 
for a term or two, and with two or three other boys 
subjected to the peculiar system of classical cramming 
or stuffing at the hands of Dick Walker, the high- 
master's son, which I have described in the previous 
chapter. He suddenly advised me to ''sit" for the 
scholarship examination at Trinity, Cambridge, in 
March, 1899. I had expected to go in for the usual 
examination later in the year, for the March exami- 
nation at Trinity was mainly for people already at the 
college and, though open to outsiders, was very rarely 
attempted by a boy still at school. 

It is almost impossible, I suppose, in old age to 
remember at all vividly even the miseries— let alone 
the splendours— of youth. No experience, except the 
first stashes of fallino; in love, has such a mixture of 

io8 • Sowing 

acutely splendid and miserable torture as that o£ 
being a "new boy." The first day at school was to 
me— and I think to the vast majority of the male 
animals called boys— terrible and terrifying, but also 
exhilaratingly exciting. You suddenly found yourself 
in a new, strange jungle, full of unknown enemies, 
pitfalls, and dangers. It was the feeling of complete 
loneliness and isolation which made the fear and 
misery so acute, and the depth of feeling was intensi- 
fied by the instinctive knowledge of the small boy 
that he must conceal the fear and misery. And mixed 
into the misery was the splendour of adventure, the 
excitement of entering into the new, the unknown 

This terrifying experience of being a new boy is, 
of course, not confined to one's first days at school. 
It may happen to one all through life, though natu- 
rally it becomes rarer as one grows older, and it is the 
privilege— or perhaps infirmity— of old age that it is 
highly improbable that you will experience it after, 
say, sixty unless you have the misfortune to find 
yourself in prison or a modern concentration camp. 
I can remember at least seven such experiences in my 
own life: three times at the three schools to which 
I went; the grim days of the examination at Trinity; 
the first days when I went up to Trinity; the first days 
in Ceylon in the Civil Service; and the day when I 
was called up for military service in the 1914 war and 
entered Kingston Barracks for a medical examination. 

The obstinate resistance to misery in the human 
animal is very remarkable. It may be absurd, but I 
know that it is true, to say that I was never more 


Cambridge • lop 

miserable than in the few days of March at the 
Trinity examination. I was the only examinee not 
in the college; I knew no one; no one spoke to me; 
I had no idea of where anything was or what I had to 
do except that I was to go to the Hall for dinner and 
the examination and sleep in a strange and uncom- 
fortable room. Considering the state of nervous ten- 
sion in which I was, I think it was a miracle that I 
did well enough to win an exhibition and subsizar- 
ship which enabled me to go up to Trinity in the 
autumn with £75 a year. In the following March at 
the college exam I converted my exhibition into a 
foundation scholarship of £100 a year. It is of some 
social interest to note that in the five years I was at 
Cambridge I managed to live on £120 a year— the 
scholarship provided £100 and my family the addi- 
tional £20. I had to be extremely careful and eco- 
nomical, but never found any serious difficulty in 
living with friends like Lytton Strachey, Thoby Ste- 
phen, and Clive Bell, who were well off and spent 
considerably more. 

I entered the new, unknown jungle of Cambridge 
University and Trinity College as a resident in 
October, 1899. My adolescent mind was, as I say, in 
a strange condition. I had intense intellectual curi- 
osity; I enjoyed intensely a large number of very 
different things: the smooth working of my o^vn 
brain on difficult material; playing cricket or, indeed, 
almost any game; omnivorous reading and in partic- 
ular the excitement of reading what seemed to one 
the works of great writers; bicycling and ^valking; 
work and the first attempts to write— I had ^von the 

no • Solving 

Eldon Essay Prize at St. Paul's, £20 and a gold medal 
(sold by me many years later to Spink for, I think, 
^^15), for an essay on monarchy, and I know that I got 
considerable pleasure (and pain) from writing it; 
people and talk, particularly the kind of people and 
talk which I wrote about at the end of the last chap- 
ter and which I had met so rarely in the jungle of 
school life that I had little hope of finding them in 
the new jungle of the university. 

When for the first time as an undergraduate I 
walked through the Trinity Great Gate into Great 
Court on my way to the rooms at the top of a stair- 
case in New Court which were to be my lair for two 
years, I trod cautiously, with circumspection, with no 
exuberant hopes of what I should find here— for that 
was what my experience of the human jungle had 
so far taught me. I had already developed, as I have 
said, a fairly effective and protective facade or cara- 
pace to conceal the uneasiness, lack of confidence, 
fear which throughout my life I have been able to 
repress but never escape. 

A symptom and part cause of this psychological 
flaw is the trembling of my hands, which I have had 
from infancy; excitement or nervousness increase it, 
but it is never entirely absent. It is hereditary, for my 
father had it— I remember how, as a small child, I 
noticed that, when he sat in the library reading The 
Times after breakfast, the paper and his hands per- 
petually trembled a little. Two of his brothers were 
afflicted with it, and more than one of my brothers. 
In Ceylon it proved to be a slight nuisance in a 
curious way. When one sat on the bench as Police 

Cambridge • /// 

Magistrate or District Judge, one had to make notes 
of the evidence and write down one's verdict and the 
reasons for it. Normally the tremor does not affect 
my writing and I would go on quite happily record- 
ing the evidence and the pleading of the lawyers if 
any were engaged in the case. But if I found an 
accused guilty, almost always a strange, disconcerting 
thing happened. When all the evidence had been 
given and the lawyers had had their say, a silence fell 
on the hot court, as I began to write my analysis of 
the evidence and my reasons for my verdict. I wrote 
away without difficulty, but again and again when 
I got to the words: *'. . . and for these reasons I find 
the accused guilty of . . . and sentence him to . . . ," 
my hand began to tremble so violently that it was 
sometimes impossible for me to write legibly, and 
I adjourned for five minutes in order to retire and 
calm myself sufficiently to complete the sentence 
(in two senses of the word). 

I used often to wonder what the explanation was 
of this ironical situation in which the judge, the head 
of the district, the white '*hamadoru"* found his 
hand refuse to convict and sentence to a week's im- 
prisonment the wretched Sinhalese villager, though 
he knew that he was legally guilty of the offence and 
that the sentence was a lenient one. Was it some 
primeval, subterranean qualm and resistance due to 
the unconscious consciousness that the judge ^vas no 
less guilty than the bewildered man in the dock? Or 
was it a still more subtle subconscious dislike of the 

• This was the title which Sinhalese villagers always gave to the 
white civil servant; it was said to be something like "My Lord." 

112 • Sowing 

majesty of the law as embodied in the judge? My 
reason has never allowed me to nourish any senti- 
mental illusions or delusions about the law and those 
who break the laws. I think that I was, by Ceylon 
standards, a good Police Magistrate and District 
Judge, always feeling that it was my main duty to 
temper justice and severity by common-sense, the 
yardstick of his judicial function for the judge being, 
not his personal tastes and distastes and ethical beliefs, 
but the maintenance of law and the laws in the 
interests of order. In the court at Hambantota they 
would not, I think, have said that I was a "lenient" 
judge. But I have always felt that the occupational 
disease of judges is cruelty, sadistic self-righteousness, 
and the higher the judge the more criminal he tends 
to become. It is one more example of the absolute 
corruption of absolute power. One rarely sees in the 
faces of less exalted persons the sullen savagery of so 
many High Court judges' faces. Their judgments, 
obiter dicta, and sentences too often show that the 
cruel arrogance of the face only reflects the pitiless 
malevolence of the soul.* 

Such speculation is probably nonsensical and the 

* The faces of high dignitaries in the Church of Rome and the 
Church of England often exhibit the same kind of sullen malevo- 
lence. Perhaps it is difficult to reach high office in the Law or in the 
Church without becoming a hypocritical and angry old man. To 
watch judges at work in the Old Bailey or in the Court of Appeal, 
when criminal cases come up, will often show that what is said 
above is not exaggerated. When I used to be summoned to serve on 
the jury at the Old Bailey and when I heard Lord Hewart trying 
criminal cases in the Appeal Court, I was often appalled and dis- 
gusted by the arrogant barbarism of the judge. Lord Chief Justices 
seem peculiarly prone to this kind of infection. 

Cambridge • 7/5 

explanation is probably simple, namely that my hand 
trembles because in the depths of my being I am 
physically and mentally afraid. (I used to tell Vir- 
ginia that the difference between us was that she was 
mentally, morally, and physically a snob, while I was 
mentally, morally, and physically a coward— and she 
was inclined to agree.) 

Another curious phenomenon is that the tremor in 
my hands has always tended to become extreme if 
I have to sign my name before other people, partic- 
ularly on cheques or similar documents. This was 
a nuisance when I was head of a district in Ceylon 
(I was Assistant Government Agent of the Hamban- 
tota District in the Southern Province in my last 
three years in Ceylon), because there was a vast 
amount of signing of one's name in this kind of way, 
which one had to do. When I came back to England 
in 1911, I went to a very intelligent and very nice 
"suggestion" doctor in Wimpole Street, Maurice 
Wright, and asked him whether he could cure me. 
He told me that I had a somewhat rare nervous dis- 
order, called "familial tremor" because it ran in 
families; it was very difficult to cure either by sugges- 
tion or any other method. Some time ago, he said, 
a man in a business firm in Bombay had come to him 
because he had to sign a large number of cheques and 
as soon as he began to do so, his hand trembled so 
violently as to make it almost impossible for him to 
write his name. Suggestion had made him slightly 
better, but had not cured him. Wright held out little 
hope of a cure, but thought it just worth while to 
give it a try. After five or six sessions, he said I was 

//^ • Sowing 

not suggestible and it would be a waste of my time 
and money to go on with the treatment. He told me 
that he found a good deal of variation in suggesti- 
bility in different professions and occupations; in his 
experience policemen were the most suggestible of 
all men. For suggestion work, he wanted a person to 
relax but not to become hypnotized; policemen were 
so suggestible that they almost invariably became 
completely hypnotized. 

Another way in which my trembling hand proved 
to be a nuisance was when I went out to lunch or 
dinner; I would clatter my knife and fork on the 
plate or spill the wine on the tablecloth. Bernard 
Shaw, who had noticed this, once told me that he had 
been to F. M. Alexander, who had cured him of some 
nervous affliction, and he strongly advised me to let 
Alexander deal with my tremor. I went to Alexander 
and he treated me for some time. He was a remark- 
able man. He was a quack, but an honest, inspired 
quack. He had himself been suddenly afflicted with a 
nervous disorder and had cured himself by discover- 
ing that his loss of muscular control was due to the 
fact that he had got into the habit of holding his 
head and neck in the wrong position. From this he 
went on to maintain that all sorts and kinds of 
diseases and disorders were due to people getting 
into the habit of holding their head, neck, shoulders, 
and spine in this wrong position and his cure con- 
sisted in training the patient by exercises to abandon 
the wrong and acquire automatically the right pos- 
ture. He said he could certainly cure me and for some 
time I went to him two or three times a week for 

Cambridge • 7/5 

treatment at considerable expense. I think that if I 
had had the patience to go on with the treatment 
and do the abominable exercises, I might have been 
cured or at any rate very nearly cured. But I simply 
cannot bring myself day after day to do physical 
exercises or remember to hold my head in a partic- 
ular position, and gradually I gave the whole thing 
up. But Alexander himself was an extraordinarily 
interesting psychological exhibit. I feel sure that he 
had hit upon a very important truth regarding auto- 
matic muscular control and loss of control and that 
his methods could cure or relieve a number of nerv- 
ous disorders. So far he was completely honest and 
a genuine "healer" of the primordial, traditional 
type. What was fascinating about him was that, 
though fundamentally honest, he was at the same 
time fundamentally a quack. The quackery was in 
his mind and came out in the inevitable patter and 
his claim to have discovered a panacea. However, as 
I said, I think his method might have cured me, but 
I had not the necessary patience to go on with the 
business and resigned myself to go on trembling 
slightly all my life. It is one of the consolations of age 
that it diminishes one's perturbations and fears, and 
so even one's tremblings. 

But I must return to Cambridge in the autumn 
and winter of 1899. I felt terribly lonely in my first 
few days at Trinity. I knew practically no one there 
or indeed at any other college. In my time at St. 
Paul's it was the fashion to enter for Oxford, not 
Cambridge, scholarships. None of my contemporaries 
in the classical VIII came up with me, and the only 

ii6 * Sowing 

Pauline scholar of my year was Maxwell Garnett. As 
he was a mathematician, I scarcely knew him at 
school and barely knew him at Trinity. It was only 
twenty years later, when he was secretary of the 
League of Nations Union, that I got to know him 

But suddenly everything changed and almost for 
the first time one felt that to be young was very 
heaven. The reason was simple. Suddenly I found to 
my astonishment that there were a number of people 
near and about me with whom I could enjoy the ex- 
citing and at the same time profound happiness of 
friendship. It began casually in what was called the 
screens, the passage through the Hall from Trinity 
Great Court to Neville's Court. I was looking at the 
notices on the board after dining in Hall and said 
something to a man standing next to me. We walked 
away together and he came back to my rooms. He 
was a scholar from Westminster, Saxon Sydney- 
Turner. Saxon was a very strange character, with one 
of the strangest minds I have met with. He was im- 
mensely intelligent and subtle, but had little crea- 
tiveness. In one of the university scholarship ex- 
aminations they set us for Greek translation a piece 
from a rather obscure writer which had a riddle in it. 
Saxon won one of the scholarships and it was said 
that he was the only person to get the riddle bit right. 
It was characteristic of him. When, years later, cross- 
word puzzles were invented and became the rage, he 
was a champion solver. And it was characteristic of 
him that he was a champion solver, never an in- 
ventor, of crossword puzzles and other mental gym- 


Cambridge • uy 

nasties, including the art of writing. He had an im- 
mense knowledge of literature, but he read books 
rather in the spirit in which a man collects stamps. 
He would tell you casually that last night he had 
read for the second time in three weeks Meister 
Eckhart's Buck der gottlicher Trostung und von den 
edlen Menschen much in the tone of voice in which 
a great stamp collector might casually remark— to 
epater his fellow collectors— that yesterday afternoon 
he had bought for 25. 6^. in a shop in a back street of 
Soho two perfect specimens of a very rare \d. Cape of 
Good Hope stamp. Later in life, when he was in the 
Treasury and lived in Great Ormond Street, he was 
an inveterate concert and opera goer in London and 
Bayreuth. He kept a record, both on paper and in 
his head, of all the operas he had ever been to. Nor- 
mally, with other people he was reserved, spoke little, 
and fell into long and unobstrusive silences. But 
sometimes he would begin to talk almost volubly 
about opera. He would tell you that last night he 
had been at Covent Garden and heard Siegfried for 
the thirty-fifth time. X had sung Briinnhilde; the 
great duet in the last act was quite good. X sang well 
and reminded him of Y, whom he had heard sing the 
same part at Bayreuth, in 1908, Z being Siegfried, 
when he had been to Siegfried for the seventh time. 
The best performance he had ever heard of the opera 
was his twelfth, also at Bayreuth; Y was again Briin- 
nhilde and there was the greatest of all Siegfrieds, 
W. The fourteenth time he saw the opera was . . . 
and so on. 

The rooms which Saxon lived in for many years in 

ii8 • Sowing 

Great Ormond Street consisted of one big sitting- 
room and a small bedroom. On each side of the sit- 
ting-room fireplace on the wall was an immense pic- 
ture of a farmyard scene. It was the same picture on 
each side, and for over thirty years Saxon lived with 
them ever before his eyes, w^hile in his bedroom there 
were some very good pictures by Duncan Grant and 
other artists, but you could not possibly see them 
because there was no light and no space to hang 
them on the walls. As time went on, Saxon acquired 
more and more books and, since he suffered from 
a variety of ailments, more and more medicine 
bottles. His bookcases filled up and soon a second 
and third row, one behind the other, became neces- 
sary, and then piles and piles of books covered the 
floor. There were books upon the tables and chairs, 
and everywhere there w^ere empty medicine bottles 
on the books, and the same two pigs, the same two 
sheep, and the same two dogs looked down upon, 
one presumes, the unseeing Saxon from the same two 
pictures on either side of the mantelpiece. 

I was up at Trinity for five years. The first tw^o 
years I had rooms in New Court; in the last three 
years Saxon and I had a double set of rooms in Great 
Court. It had one very large room on the first floor 
and two small bedrooms on the second. Saxon was 
a short, thin man with a very pale face and straw- 
coloured hair. He seemed to glide, rather than walk, 
and noiselessly, so that one moment you were alone 
in a room and next moment you found him sitting 
in a chair near you though you had not heard the 
door open or him come in. We saw very little of eacf) 

Cambridge • up 

other except in the evenings, for he used to get up 
very late as a rule, whereas I was up at eight. We 
hardly ever had a meal together, for he ate very little 
and at the most erratic hours. 

Both physically and mentally Saxon was ghost-like, 
shadowy. He rarely committed himself to any posi- 
tive opinion or even statement. His conversation— 
if it could rightly be called conversation— was ex- 
tremely spasmodic, elusive, and allusive. You might 
be sitting reading a book and suddenly find him 
standing in front of you on one leg in front of the 
fire knocking out his pipe into the fireplace and he 
would say without looking up: "Her name was 
Emily," or perhaps: *'He was right." After a con- 
siderable amount of cross-examination, you would 
find that the first remark applied to a conversation 
weeks ago in which he had tried unsuccessfully to 
remember the christian name of Miss Girouette in 
Nightmare Abbey ^ and the second remark applied 
to a dispute between Thoby Stephen and myself 
which I had completely forgotten because it had 
taken place in the previous term. 

During the years we were at Trinity, Henry James 
was at the height of his powers, writing those strange, 
involved, elusive novels of his last period. We read 
The Sacred Fount, The Wings of the Dove, and The 
Golden Bowl as they came out. Lytton Strachey, 
Saxon, and I were fascinated by them— entranced and 
almost hynotized. I don't know whether we thought 
that they were really great masterpieces. My enjoy- 
ment and admiration of them have always been, and 
still are, great, but always with a reservation. There 

I20 • Sowing 

is an element of ridiculousness, even of "phoneyness" 
in them which makes it impossible to rank them with 
the greatest or even the great novels. But the strange, 
Jamesian, convoluted beauty and subtlety of them 
act upon those who yield to them like drink or drugs; 
for a time we became addicts, habitual drunkards— 
never, perhaps, quite serious, but playing at seeing 
the world of Trinity and Cambridge as a Jamesian 
phantasmagoria, writing and talking as if we had just 
walked out of The Sacred Fount into Trinity Great 
Court. The curious thing was that, whereas Lytton 
and I were always consciously playing a game or 
writing like Mrs. Brissenden and Mrs. Server, Saxon 
quite naturally talked, looked, acted, was a character 
in an unwritten novel by Henry James. 

No human being can be quite as cynical, quite as 
ironical as facts. While I was in Ceylon— about 1908 
or 1909, I suppose— Vanessa, Virginia, and Adrian 
Stephen went to Rye for the summer and Saxon 
stayed with them. Henry James was living in Rye 
then, in Lamb House, and there was also living in 
the town at the same time Sydney Waterlow.* Syd- 
ney, who was a great friend of the novelist, told me 
that James was shocked by the "Stephen girls" or, 
rather, by their friends. James had known the 
Stephen children well from their childhood, for he 
was an intimate friend of Sir Leslie Stephen and 
often came to the house in Hyde Park Gate when 

♦ The late Sir Sydney Waterlow. Sydney's life was in some ways 
stranger than fiction. He was an infant prodigy at Eton and a bril- 
liant classical scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge; later in the 
Diplomatic Service, his last post was Minister in Athens. 


Cambridge * 121 

their mother was alive. When they came to Rye that 
summer, he had not seen them for a good many 
years. He was uneasy at not finding in them the 
standard of lady-like life and manners which be- 
longed to Hyde Park Gate and the houses and their 
inhabitants in The Wings of the Dove or The Golden 
Bowl. But what upset him most was their friends, poor 
Saxon and Lytton Strachey, who also came to stay 
with them. Sydney repeated to me with gusto an 
interminable sentence in which by parenthesis within 
parenthesis and infinite reservations, involutions, and 
convolutions Henry James delicately, regretfully, 
hesitatingly conveyed his feeling that Saxon was 
small, insignificant, silent, and even rather grubby. 

Nothing could have been more ironical than the 
situation there in Rye fifty years ago— the infinitely 
subtle author of The Sacred Fount, with his infinitely 
sensitive antennae, rendered completely insensitive 
and obtuse by the mist of social snobbery through 
which he saw life and people and out of which he 
often created his shadowy masterpieces. For in 1908 
Henry James was in many ways a disappointed man. 
His reputation was high, but his readers were few. 
Like so many writers, and with a good deal more 
reason than most, he felt that the readers, the sales, 
the success which he knew he deserved evaded him. 
This saddened him, and he was immensely pleased 
by the appreciation and admiration of younger peo- 
ple like Sydney Waterlow and Hugh Walpole. But 
Sydney and Hugh were extremely respectable young 
men, properly dressed, with the right hats on their 
heads, and carrying an umbrella at the appropriate 

122 • Sowing 

moment. And now there was the novelist sitting in 
the same room with two of the most intelligent of 
the younger generation, who understood and ad- 
mired him far more profoundly, I think, than Hugh 
or Sydney did, and one of them, Saxon, was almost a 
creation of the novelist, a character in one of his 
novels. And all that the sensitive antennae recorded 
was that the young man was small, silent, and grubby. 
All this, it should perhaps be added, did not per- 
manently affect James's respect and affection for Les- 
lie Stephen's family. After Virginia and I married in 
1912, I acted for a short time as secretary of Roger 
Fry's Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the 
Grafton Galleries. One afternoon Henry James came, 
and after Roger and I had shown him round the pic- 
tures—which he did not very much like— we took him 
down into the basement and gave him tea. When he 
realized that I had just married Virginia, he got up 
and shook hands with me a second time and made me 
a characteristic, ceremonious speech. It went on for 
quite a time and had many trailing and flowery sen- 
tences full of parentheses. But it showed, I thought, 
genuine kindliness and real feeling for Leslie Stephen 
and for the great beauty of his wife and daughters. 
I was amused to see that during tea, as he talked, he 
gradually tilted back his chair until it was balanced 
on the two back legs, he maintaining equilibrium by 
just holding on to the edge of the table. Now the 
Stephens had told me that when they were children 
and Henry James came to tea, or some other meal, 
which he often did, he had a habit of doing this when 
he talked. As the long sentences untwined themselves. 

Cambridge • 725 

the chair would tilt slowly backwards and all the 
children's eyes were fixed on it, fearing and hoping 
that at last it would overbalance backwards and de- 
posit Henry James on the floor. Time after time he 
would just recover himself, but then indeed at last 
it one day happened; the chair went over and the 
novelist was on the floor, undismayed, unhurt, and 
after a moment completing his sentence. 

The tremendous effect of Henry James's later 
novels upon us at Cambridge between the years 1 900 
and 1905 may be shown by the following facts. Dur- 
ing those years I used sometimes to write down, im- 
mediately after they had occurred, conversations or 
scraps of conversation which had seemed to me sig- 
nificant or amusing. I thought I was recording them 
verbatim and unembellished, but in fact, as will ap- 
pear, Henry James— unknown to myself and himself 
—occasionally took a hand and gave them a perhaps 
not altogether illegitimate twist. These fragments 
had, I thought, all disappeared in Ceylon bungalows 
and in those appalling diaspora of possessions which 
takes place when one moves from one house to an- 
other. But not so very long ago I found in an old 
notebook two dirty, yellowed, folded sheets of paper 
—two contemporary records of t^vo such conversa- 
tions. I propose to give them here. 

A word must be said about the dramatis personae 
in the first conversation. G. was R. K. Gaye, H. was 
G. H. Hardy, and F. was Walter Morley Fletcher; 
they were all Fellows of Trinity in 1903 when the 
conversation took place. Hardy was one of the most 
strange and charming of men. A ''pure" mathemati- 

12^ • Sowing 

cian of the greatest brilliance, he became an F.R.S. 
and Savilian Professor of Geometry in Oxford. He 
had the eyes of a slightly startled fawn below the 
very beautiful and magnificent forehead of an infant 
prodigy. He gave one the feeling that he belonged 
more properly to Prospero's island than the Great 
Court of Trinity. He lived in a double suite of rooms 
in Great Court with Gaye, a saturnine classical 
Fellow who committed suicide some years later. 
Gaye and Hardy were absolutely inseparable; they 
were never seen apart and rarely talked to other peo- 
ple. They collected railway tickets (this, I think, was 
really Gaye's mania) and had a passion for every kind 
of game. They admitted Saxon and me into a re- 
stricted acquaintanceship because Saxon had been at 
Westminister with Gaye, and we played bowls with 
them in the Fellows' Garden and cricket with a walk- 
ing-stick and tennis ball in their rooms. Fletcher be- 
came Secretary of the Medical Research Council, and 
F.R.S. and a K.B.E. Here is the record of the con- 
versation to which I had given the title. The Cat, the 
Worms, and the Rats: 

When I went into G. and H.'s room, I found them sitting 
one on each side of the fire in a very dejected condition. 
On the floor between them sat their cat. They were quite 
silent and dishevelled and they merely gazed at the cat. 
The cat's ill, said H. at last in a dull voice. It's got worms, 
at least that's what the vet said— F. told us to go to him. 

Poor thing! I felt I had to say, to break the pause. 

It hasn't eaten for two days, he went on. You see, the 
vet says as soon as it makes the movements preparing to 

Cambridge • 725 

eat, the worms— they're in the stomach, you know— come 
up into the oesophagus and nearly choke it. 

But what are you doing for it? I said. 

Well, the vet gave us a powder for it. He said just give 
it to him and it will kill the worms inside. But that's the 
worst of these experts, you always think it's quite easy 
when they are telling you what to do; when you go and 
try to do it, you find it's impossible. We can't get him to 
take the powder; we tried to make him take it mixed with 
milk— the vet told us to— but we could only force a little 
of it down his throat with a teaspoon and even then he 
was sick at once. F. says he doesn't believe you can make 
a cat take anything against its will. 

There was a long pause, while we all looked at the cat. 

It's in a very emaciated condition, H. was pursuing in 
a still lower voice, when the door opened and F. came in. 

Well, how's the patient? he said with conscientious 

Just the same, said H. You know we can't make it take 
the powders; it was sick when we forced a little down its 

If it was only a dog, I said. You'd simply open its 
mouth and drop it down. But then of course there are 
the claws. You can't get hold of a cat. 

No, said F., even a dog can't kill a cat easily. 

That's because he can't come to close quarters, I said. 
I suppose if he got it in the back like he does a rabbit, 
he could quite easily. 

I suppose he could, said F. You know a terrier kills a 
rabbit or rat with a flick just breaking its back. By the 
bye that reminds me of the most repulsive sight I ever 
saw— it really was too filthy. It was in France last vac. I 
was biking in the Rhone valley with J. 

Here H. to whom G. had whispered something broke 
in: I'm sorry, F., but, before I forget, do you think it's a 

126 • Sowing 

funny or bad symptom that while the cat is being sick it 
walks backwards? 

I really don't know, returned F. Well, we were biking 
through a small village and found there was a fair going 
on, so we dismounted to have a look. The great attrac- 
tion was Madame Boug, the champion rat catcher. We 
found a big crowd awaiting her arrival round a pit. We 
squeezed in among them and soon she made her appear- 
ance. She was a tall, big woman and stark naked except 
for a tightly fitting red pair of drawers— really quite 
repulsive, you know. Well, she went into the pit and they 
loosed about twenty big sewer rats into it too. Then she 
went down on her hands and knees and chased the rats 
round. She crawled extraordinarily quickly and every 
now and then made a dart with her head, caught one by 
the back in her mouth, gave a little flick, and it was 
dead. It was quite foul, you know; to see her seize them 
in her teeth and give that little jerk just like a terrier. 

But didn't they bite her? I said. 

O yes, he said, in the ears, that was so repulsive. For 
when there were only three left, she worked them up into 
a corner and as she was killing one another seized her 
ear, and I saw another leap up from under her breast 
right over her neck. I daresay they bit her in the breast 
too, but it was really so repulsive, you know, that we 
made off feeling quite sick. 

But, said G., as F. got up, I shouldn't have thought her 
mouth was big enough to seize a rat in. 

Ah, said F., she was a big-mouthed woman, quite re- 
pulsive, you know. 

Then the door closed upon his Goodnight! 

May loth, 1903. 

The second conversation, which is a good deal 
more Jamesian, requires a word of explanation. The 

Cambridge • 727 

dramatis personae are St., Lytton Strachey; The G., 
Thoby Stephen, who was nicknamed The Goth; 
S-T, Saxon Sydney-Turner; and M., a rather older 
scholar called Maclaren. "The method" referred to 
in the conversation had been invented by Lytton and 
me; it was a kind of third-degree psychological in- 
vestigation applied to the souls of one's friends. 
Though it was a long time before we had any knowl- 
edge of Freud, it was a kind of compulsory psycho- 
analysis. It was intended to reveal to us, and inciden- 
tally to the victim, what he was really like; the theory 
was that by imparting to all concerned the deeper 
psychological truths, personal relationships would be 
much improved. Its technique was derived partly 
from Socrates, partly from Henry James, partly from 
G. E. Moore, and partly from ourselves. We had al- 
ready applied the method with disastrous success to 
Saxon. Here is the conversation: 

Sunday night. 

I was writing a letter when the St. came in. The G. 
and S-T. were sitting silent round the fire. 

Wait a moment! he said. 

There was a long pause while he walked up and down. 
What have you been doing? I said. Two wonderful con- 
versations, was the answer, and then the pacing began 

It's reached the ultimate, he said at last. 

I looked up. O, it's nothing indecent, he said, and— 
well, it's the penultimate really. 

How did you do it? 

I simply asked him. It's wonderful if it's true. We were 
hopeless and the method's smashed. 

O, I can't believe that. 

128 • Sowing 

Yes, but that's the contortion ... I can't believe it 
and he can't make me. There are no ups and downs and 
there are only a few. And he's— — 

Here the door opened and M. came in. He stood gap- 
ing for two minutes and then joined the other two by 
falling silent into a chair. 

He's going— and that of course will be the ultimate— 
to give me the names. 


He began pacing again. 

There's no hypnosis even, he went on. The touching 
and all that— that's not the important part. You see, I 
can't understand it. 

But the questions, I said. How could you ask them? 

Well, once I did think I was lost. But what's so awful 
for him, poor thing, is that however much he swears it's 
true, I can't believe him. 

Well, you are cruel. I call it sheer brutality. 

He stood and drummed on the table with my pen 
while I lay back in my chair and looked at him. The 
group round the fire was still silent. Suddenly he turned 
to go and as suddenly came back to the table. There's 
one thing more, he said. This has certainly been the 
most wonderful of all. 

Then the door slammed. 

May lo, 1903. 

Let me return for a brief moment to Saxon. I have 
said that we applied "the method" to him with dis- 
astrous success. Lytton and I were very fond of him— 
we had become intimate friends long before Saxon 
and I had the double set of rooms in Great Court. 
But the more intimately we got to know him, the 
more concerned we became about his psychological 
state. He seemed, even at the age of twenty, to have 

Cambridge ' i2p 

deliberately withdrawn himself from life, to protect 
himself from its impact and from the impact of per- 
sons, emotions, and things by spinning around him- 
self an elaborate and ingenious series of cocoons. He 
was thus in the process of successfully stifling his 
creativeness, his sensitive and subtle intelligence, his 
affections. He was, as I have said, a character in a 
Henry James novel, but he would also have seemed 
more alive in Crotchet Castle or Nightmare Abbey 
than in the Cambridge of 1900. Beneath the facade 
and the veils, one felt that there might be an atro- 
phied Shelley. 

Lytton and I decided that we ought to apply "the 
method" to Saxon, to try to make him tear up and 
break through the veils into life. One evening after 
dining in Hall we began to apply the third-degree 
psychological investigation to him about half-past 
eight and continued it uninterruptedly until five in 
the morning; when at last he staggered away to bed, 
we had successfully uncovered the soul of Saxon, but 
had disastrously confirmed him in the determination 
to stifle it in an infinite series of veils. Twenty-five 
years later, I amused myself by writing "characters" 
of some of my friends after the manner of La Bru- 
yere. Here is one which was suggested to some ex- 
tent by recollections of Saxon: 

Aristotle sits in a corner of a room spinning, spinning 
webs around himself. He has been spinning now for 
thirty years, so that it is rather difficult to see through 
the web exactly what he really is, sitting there curled 
up smoking his pipe in the centre of it. Originally be- 
fore the webs began, if there was such a time— if indeed 

i^o ' Sowing 

he did not begin spinning them in his mother's womb- 
he must have been charming. He might have been 
Shelley. He might have dreamed dreams of a queer un- 
substantial beauty; the fine temper of his mind might 
have built a philosophy true and beautiful and unintelli- 
gible; he might have had bright and delicate affections; 
he might have been happy, he might have been in love. 
Years ago, I suppose, all this showed more clearly than it 
does now. For I think that Heracleitus and Aristophanes 
must have seen it when they took Aristotle to their 
bosom. It wanted clear eyes to see through the web even 
then, it wants still clearer eyes now. You go into a large 
dirty room full of dead things and abominations and 
uglinesses. The most abominable thing in it are the 
books; even the Phaedrus becomes a degradation there. 
All the books are dead, and all the thoughts and words 
of them have become dust and ashes and desolation. You 
feel that the Rabelais which you had in your overcoat 
pocket when you came in has already turned into a skele- 
ton of dry bones. There are books everywhere: on tables 
and chairs and floor and mantelpiece and bed, and 
scattered among the books are old bottles of medicine 
and horrible little boxes of tabloids and capsules and 
pills. You brighten up when you see a copy of the Lysis- 
trata lying upon the table; you open it and find a bottle 
of laudanum between the leaves, thrust in to mark the 
place. A thin layer of dust and soot lies upon everything. 
You sink sadly into a chair and look into the corner and 
there you see an immense accumulated mass of grey 
strands, dusty, dirty, tangled. They float about the room 
brushing softly against your face. You shudder? You try 
to rouse yourself? You talk loud, brutally, not knowing 
quite what you are saying? Your noise and excitement, 
my friend, are quite useless; you had much better sit 
down again and quietly watch him spinning quietly in 

Cambridge • i^i 

the corner. Do you see how the web is growing? There, 
that long dusty, whitish-grey strand is a list of all the 
writers on the Higher Mathematics whose names begin 
with P. A good wrap for the soul? And then there are 
124 volumes of Diodorus Siculus and Duns Scotus and 
Hippocrates and Galen and the Montenegrin poets and 
the Hottentot philosophers. Fine wraps for the soul? But 
above all there is the past: to spin the past over the pres- 
ent until what was the present has become the past ready 
to be spun again over the present that was the future! 
Quick, let us cover our souls with the litter of memories 
and old sayings and the dead letters of the dead. And if 
the dead are ourselves, so much the better; let the rub- 
bish of the past stifle our feelings, let the sap and vigour 
of our thoughts dry up and ooze away into the dusty ac- 
cretions which we spin over ourselves. Such is the phi- 
losophy of Aristotle. Is he happy? Is the mole or the 
barnacle or the spider happy? If they are, then Aristotle 
is too when he has not got the toothache, which is not 
often. In the very centre of the web, I think, there is still 
a gentle titillation of unsubstantial happiness whenever 
he finds another higher mathematician whose name be- 
gins with P. or when between 1 and 2 a.m. he explains 
to Aspasia that the great uncle of his mother's cousin 
moved in 1882 from Brixton to Balham and that his 
name was Beeley Tupholme, or even when he sees in his 
old letters that he was young once with Heracleitus and 
Aristophanes. It may be that affection still moves him for 
Aristophanes and Heracleitus and Kyron and Lysistrata 
and Aspasia, but they move, I think, through the past. 
The reason of all this? you ask. It may be that God made 
him— a eunuch; or it may be that the violence and bru- 
tality of life were too strong for the delicacy of him; he 
was terrified by it and by his feelings. He looks some- 
times like a little schoolboy whom life has bullied into 

1^2 • Sowing 

unconsciousness. Which is really true nobody will ever 
know, for now he will go on sitting there in his corner 
spinning his interminable cocoon until he dies. It will 
be some time before we find out that he really is dead and 
then we shall go to the large dirty room and push and 
tear our way through the enormous web which by that 
time will almost completely fill it, and at last when we 
stand choking in the centre of it we shall find just noth- 
ing at all. Then we shall bury the cocoon. 

Lytton Strachey, Thoby Stephen, and Clive Bell 
all came up to Trinity in the same year as Saxon and 
I did and we soon got to know them well. We were 
intimate friends— particularly Lytton, Saxon, and my- 
self—but intimacy in 1900 among middle-class males 
was different from what it became in generations 
later than ours. Some of us were called by nicknames; 
for instance, we always called Thoby Stephen The 
Goth, but we never used Christian names. Lytton al- 
ways called me W^oolf and I always called him Stra- 
chey until I returned from Ceylon in 1911 and found 
that the wholesale revolution in society and manners 
which had taken place in the preceding seven years 
involved the use of Christian names in place of sur- 
names. The difference was— and is— not entirely un- 
important. The shade of relationship between Woolf 
and Strachey is not exactly the same as that between 
Leonard and Lytton. The surname relationship was 
determined by and retained that curious formality 
and reticence which the nineteenth-century public- 
school system insisted upon in certain matters. Now, 
of course, the use of Christian names and their dimin- 
utives has become so universal that it may soon per- 

Cambridge • 755 

haps become necessary to indicate intimacy by using 

Lytton was a very strange character already when 
he came up to Cambridge in 1899. There was a mix- 
ture of arrogance and diffidence in him. His mind 
had already formed in a Voltairean mould, and his 
inclinations, his passions, the framework of his 
thought belonged to the eighteenth century, and par- 
ticularly to eighteenth-century France. His body was 
long, thin, and rather ungainly; all his movements, 
including his walk, were slow and slightly hesitant 
—I never remember to have seen him run. When he 
sat in a chair, he appeared to have tied his body, and 
particularly his legs, into what I always called a 
Strachean knot. There was a Strachean voice, com- 
mon to him and to all his nine brothers and sisters 
(much less marked in the eldest brother, Dick, who 
was a major in the army when I knew him, than in 
the others). It was mainly derived, I think, from the 
mother and consisted in an unusual stress accent, 
heavy emphasis on words here and there in a sen- 
tence, combined with an unusual tonic accent, so 
that emphasis and pitch continually changed, often 
in a kind of syncopated rhythm. It was extremely 
catching, and most people who saw much of Lytton 
acquired the Strachey voice and never completely 
lost it. Lytton himself added another peculiarity to 
the family cadence. Normally his voice was low and 
fairly deep, but every now and again it went up into 
a falsetto, almost a squeak. 

This squeak added to the effect of his characteristic 
style of wit. He was one of the most amusing con- 

1^4 ' Sowing 

versationalists I have ever known. He was not a 
monolognist or a raconteur. Except when he was with 
one or a few intimate friends, he did not say very 
much and his silences were often long. They were 
often broken by a Strachean witticism, probably a 
devastating reductio ad absurdum— the wit and the 
devastation owing much to the perfect turn of the 
sentence and the delicate stiletto stab of the falsetto 
voice. Many, particularly among the young, as I 
said, caught his method of talking and ever after- 
wards spoke in the Strachey voice; so too, many 
caught his method of thinking and thought ever after 
with a squeak in their minds. The unwary stranger, 
seeing Lytton contortedly collapsed in a tangle of his 
own arms and legs in the depths of an armchair, his 
eyes gazing in fixed abstraction through his strong- 
glasses on his toes which had corkscrewed themselves 
up and round to within a foot of his nose, the un- 
wary stranger might and sometimes did dismiss him 
as a gentle, inarticulate, nervous, awkward intellec- 
tual. All these adjectives were correct, but woe betide 
the man or woman who thought that they were the 
end of the matter and of Lytton Strachey. I used to 
tell him that, when he came to see us and we were 
not alone, I proposed to put a notice on the arm of 
his chair: be careful, this animal bites. 

The animal bit because, behind the gentleness, 
the nervousness, and the cynicism, there were very 
considerable passions. They were the passions of the 
artist and of the man who is passionately attached to 
standards of intellectual integrity. This may sound 
priggish to some people, but no man has ever been 

Cambridge • 735 

less of a prig than he was. He suffered the stupid and 
stupidity and the philistine and philistinism with 
unconcealed irritation which might take the form 
either of the blackest, profoundest silence or of a 
mordant witticism. As he could on occasions be ruth- 
less and inconsiderate, I have known his intolerance 
produce intolerable situations. One summer he came 
to stay with us at Rodmell for a few days and, when 
he heard that a well-known literary man, whom I will 
call X, had taken a cottage in the village, he asked me 
to have him in to dinner one evening, as he would 
like to meet him. I deprecated the idea, as X was, 
like many literary men, rather a bore and not at all 
''bright" in the Strachean sense. However Lytton in- 
sisted that he had never met X and wanted to meet 
him, so I foolishly gave way and X appeared the fol- 
lowing evening at 7:30. After the first five minutes, 
Lytton withdrew into himself and a thick cloud of 
silence, fixing his eyes upon his food or upon the ceil- 
ing and tying his legs into even more complicated 
knots than usual. When X left some three hours later, 
I do not think that he had heard more than twenty 
words from the author of Eminent Victorians. 

This kind of arrogance and rudeness, alternating, 
as it did, with a curious diffident nervousness, roused 
a certain amount of hostility to Lytton both among 
people who knew him a little and often among peo- 
ple who did not know him at all. His physical ap- 
pearance and voice had that indefinable quality 
which tends to excite animosity or ridicule at sight in 
the ordinary man, the Cambridge "blood" or tough, 
for instance. To his intimate friends, thouoh he 

1^6 • Sowing 

could be momentarily infuriating, he was extraordi- 
narily affectionate and lovable. It should be added 
that many of his characteristics which superficially 
irritated or repelled people were due to his health. 
Though he never during the time that I knew him 
had a dangerous illness before the final cancer which 
killed him at the age of fifty-one in 1932, I have the 
impression, looking back over the thirty-one years of 
my knowing him, that he was hardly ever completely 
well, or, rather, that the standard of his physical 
strength, health, vitality was, compared with the av- 
erage human being's, low. One felt that he always 
had to husband his bodily forces in the service of his 
mind and that, in view of the precarious balance of 
physical health, it was surprising how much he ac- 

The characters in The Waves are not drawn from 
life, but there is something of Lytton in Neville. 
There is no doubt that Percival in that book contains 
something of Thoby Stephen, Virginia's brother, who 
died of typhoid aged twenty-six in 1906. Thoby came 
up to Trinity from Clifton with an exhibition in the 
same year as Lytton, Saxon, and I. He gave one an 
impression of physical magnificence. He was six foot 
two, broad-shouldered and somewhat heavily made, 
with a small head set elegantly upon the broad 
shoulders so that it reminded one of the way in which 
the small head is set upon the neck of a well-bred 
Arab horse. His face was extraordinarily beautiful 
and his character was as beautiful as his face. In his 
monolithic character, his monolithic common-sense, 
his monumental judgments, he continually reminded 


Cambridge • i^y 

one of Dr. Johnson, but a Samuel Johnson who had 
shed his neuroticism, his irritability, his fears. He 
had a perfect "natural" style of writing, flexible, 
lucid, but rather formal, old-fashioned, almost John- 
sonian or at any rate eighteenth century. And there 
was a streak of the same natural style in his talk. 
Any wild statement, speculative judgment, or Stra- 
chean exaggeration would be met with a "Nonsense, 
my good fellow," from Thoby, and then a sentence of 
profound, but humorous, common-sense, and a de- 
lighted chuckle. Thoby had a good sense of humour, 
a fine, sound, but not brilliant mind. He had many 
of the characteristic qualities of the males of his 
family, of his father, Leslie Stephen, his uncle James 
Fitzjames Stephen, and his cousin J. K. Stephen. But 
what everyone who knew him remembers most vividly 
in him was his extraordinary charm. He had greater 
personal charm than anyone I have even known, 
and, unlike all other great "charmers," he seemed, 
and I believe was, entirely unconscious of it. It was, 
no doubt, partly physical, partly due to the unusual 
combination of sweetness of nature and affection with 
rugged intelligence and a complete lack of senti- 
mentality, and partly to those personal flavours of 
the soul which are as unanalysable and indescribable 
as the scents of flowers or the overtones in a line of 
great poetry. 

Thoby was an intellectual; he liked an argument 
and had a great, though conservative and classical, 
appreciation and love of literature. But he also, 
though rather scornful of games and athletics, loved 
the open air— watching birds, walking, following the 

1^8 • Solving 

beagles. In these occupations, particularly in walk- 
ing, I often joined him. Walking with him was by 
no means a tame business, for it was almost a Stephen 
principle in walking to avoid all roads and ignore 
the rights of property owners and the law of trespass. 
Owing to these principles we did not endear our- 
selves to the gamekeepers round Cambridge. Though 
fundamentally respectable, conservative, and a moral- 
ist, he was always ready in the country to leave the 
beaten track in more senses than one. In our walks 
up the river towards Trumpington, we had several 
times noticed a clump of magnificent hawthorn trees 
in which vast numbers of starlings came nightly to 
roost. I have never seen such enormous numbers of 
birds in so small a space; there must have been thou- 
sands upon thousands and the trees were in the 
evening literally black with them. We several times 
tried to put them all up into the air at the same time, 
for, if we succeeded, it would have been a marvellous 
sight to see the sky darkened and the setting sun ob- 
scured by the immense cloud of birds. But we failed 
because every time we approached the trees, the birds 
went up into the air spasmodically in gusts, and not 
altogether. So we bought a rocket and late one eve- 
ning fired it from a distance into the trees. The ex- 
periment succeeded and we had the pleasure of see- 
ing the sun completely blotted out by starlings. It 
was several years later that I was to see as large or 
even larger flights of birds in Ceylon— the great flocks 
of teal wheeling round the lagoons or the tanks in 
the Hambantota district. 

The following letter which Thoby wrote to me 

Cambridge • j^p 

shortly after I went to Ceylon gives, I think, some 
faint flavour of his character: 

46 Gordon Square, 
Jan 15, 1905. 

Dear Woolf, 

I ought to have written to you before this, but the 
world has been very barren of circumstance, and one 
feels that a letter ought to contain information in some 
proportion to the number of miles it has to go. That is 
probably a fallacy, but anyhow you must have had inci- 
dents enough by now among the Obesekeridae to fill an 
epistle which I hope this will evoke. I have been plodding 
pretty steadily at the law and becoming crystallised at it 
—in fact my moustache has disappeared. I was in the 
New Forest at Christmas, where I got some hunting, one 
especially rare chivy. From there I walked to Hindhead 
and stayed some days with Pollock. There were there 
J. Pollock, his sister and her husband Waterlow (you 
know the man I suppose), Meredith for a time, and old 
Bell. I more or less enjoyed it but it was damned funny. 
Waterlow is a serious cove and devilish Cambridge. 
"What is poetry? Well, there you ask me a difficult ques- 
tion—I am not sure that it is anything— it depends what 
you mean by being" and so on the old round, till after an 
hour or two all go to bed leaving Bell and me who shout 
simultaneously "Now let's talk about hunting." His wife 
lags behind him but struggles gallantly "Sidney, Sidney, 
what do you mean by Mon-og-amy?" However he has a 
bottom of good sense and is not a bad fellow . . . The 
good old chapel row* is still fermenting. Cornford and 
Gaye have pamphleteered and Pollock is following with 

* Thoby had written and circulated in Cambridge a pamphlet 
against the practice of compulsory chapel in Trinity College. 

i^o • Sowing 

a "legal aspect" one. I have suppressed mine pro tern 
out of deference to Cornford— who takes I think a rotten 
line— chapel is either the sublimest function of man or 
the most pathetic of human fallacies— it's no good being 
dainty with Christians and chapel's obviously rot and 
nothing else. I seem to have done nothing and seen no- 
body and read little of interest for the deuce of a time— 
I've been reading satires chiefly when I've had time— I 
think probably all the best things written have been 
satires except Virgil— and one can worm a quasi-satire out 
of the bees. I think I am going to make my working men* 
read it. Virgil after all is the top of the tree and Sophocles 
is thereabouts— next come Catullus and Aristophanes, 
that is my mature opinion so far as the ancients go. They 
talk of abolishing Greek at Cambridge and Jackson and 
Verrall are helping the devils. If they do you'd better be- 
come a naturalized Cingalese— and I shall go to the Lac- 
cadives. Haynes annoys me rather— I dined with Bell and 
him the other day— he talks of nothing but suicides, 
disease and bawdy, and his beastly book— almost he per- 
suades me to be a Christian. Well, my good fellow. I've 
nothing to say but what's unutterably dull, but I hope 
I shall hear something enlivening from you some day. 

Yrs. ever 
J. T. Stephen. 

Clive Bell came up to Trinity the same year as we 
did, 1899, and when we first got to know him, he was 
different in many ways from us and even from the 
Clive Bell whom I found married to Vanessa Stephen 
and living in Gordon Square when I returned from 
Ceylon in 1911. He came into our lives because he 
got to know Saxon, having rooms on the same stair- 
case in New Court. Lytton, Saxon, Thoby, and I 

♦ Thoby taught at the Working Men's College. 

Cambridge • 141 

belonged, unconcealably and unashamedly, to that 
class of human beings which is regarded with deep 
suspicion in Britain, and particularly in public 
schools and universities, the intellectual. Clive, when 
he came up to Trinity from Marlborough, was not 
yet an intellectual. He was superficially a ''blood." 
The first time I ever saw him he was walking through 
Great Court in full hunting rig-out, including— un- 
less this is wishful imagination— a hunting horn and 
the whip carried by the whipper-in. He was a great 
horseman and a first-rate shot, very well-off, and to 
be seen in the company of ''bloods," not the rowing, 
cricket, and rugger blues, but the rich young men 
who shot, and hunted, and rode in the point-to-point 
races. He had a very attractive face, particularly to 
women, boyish, good-humoured, hair red and curly, 
and what in the eighteenth century was called, I 
think, a sanguine complexion. 

Clive became great friends with Thoby, for they 
both were fond of riding and hunting. In those early 
days, and indeed for many years afterwards, intel- 
lectually Clive sat at the feet of Lytton and Thoby. 
He was one of those strange Englishmen w^ho break 
away from their environment and become devoted 
to art and letters. His family of wealthy philistines 
whose money came from coal lived in a large house 
in Wiltshire. Somehow or other, Mr. and Mrs. Bell 
produced Clive's mind, which was a contradiction in 
terms of theirs.* For his mind was eager, lively, in- 

* I do not think that I ever met either of Clive's parents, but I 
have heard so much about them from him and hom others that I 
have no doubt about the truth of what I say here. 

142 • Sowing 

tensely curious, and he quickly developed a passion 
for literature* and argument. We had started some 
reading societies for reading aloud plays, one of 
which met at midnight, and Clive became a member 
of them. In this way we came to see a good deal of 
him, and his admiration for Lytton and Thoby be- 
gan to flourish. 

It is necessary here to say something about the So- 
ciety—The Apostles— because of the immense impor- 
tance it had for us, its influence upon our minds, our 
friendships, our lives. The Society was and still is 
"secret," but, as it has existed for 130 years or more, 
in autobiographies and biographies of members, its 
nature, influence, and membership have naturally 
from time to time been described. There is a good 
deal about it in the autobiography of Dean Merivale, 
who was elected in 1830, and in the memoir of 
Henry Sidgwick, who was elected in 1856, and in- 
formation about its condition in the early years of 
the present century can be found in The Life of John 
Maynard Keynes by R. F. Harrod, who was not him- 
self an Apostle. These descriptions show that its na- 
ture and atmosphere have remained fundamentally 
unaltered throughout its existence. The following 
words from Sidgwick's A Memoir are worth quoting: 

* It is worth noting that in those days we set little or no store by 
pictures and painting. I never heard Clive talk, about pictures at 
Cambridge, and it was only after he came down and lived for a time 
in Paris and got to know Roger Fry that his interest in art de- 
veloped. Music already meant a good deal to Lytton, Saxon, and me, 
and we went to chamber music concerts in Cambridge and orches- 
tral concerts in London, but I do not think that it has ever meant 
much to Clive. 

Cambridge • 14^ 

I became a member of a discussion society— old and 
possessing historical traditions— which went by the name 
of "The Apostles". When I joined it the number of mem- 
bers was not large, and there is an exuberant vitality in 
Merivale's description to which I recall nothing corres- 
ponding. But the spirit, I think, remained the same, and 
gradually this spirit— at least as I apprehended it— ab- 
sorbed and dominated me. I can only describe it as the 
spirit of the pursuit of truth with absolute devotion and 
unreserve by a group of intimate friends, who were per- 
fectly frank with each other, and indulged in any amount 
of humorous sarcasm and playful banter, and yet each 
respects the other, and when he discourses tries to learn 
from him and see what he sees. Absolute candour was 
the only duty that the tradition of the society enforced 
... It was rather a point of the apostolic mind to under- 
stand how much suggestion and instruction may be de- 
rived from what is in form a jest— even in dealing with 
the gravest matters ... It came to seem to me that no 
part of my life at Cambridge was so real to me as the 
Saturday evenings on which the apostolic debates were 
held; and the tie of attachment to the society is much the 
strongest corporate bond which I have known in life. 

The Apostles of my generation would all have 
agreed with every word in this quotation. When Lyt- 
ton, Saxon, and I were elected, the other active un- 
dergraduate members were A. R. Ainsworth, Ralph 
Hawtrey, and J. T. Sheppard.* When Maynard 
Keynes came up, we elected him in 1903. Sidgwick 

* Ainsworth became a civil servant in the Education Office; 
Hawtrey, now Sir Ralph Hawtrey, a civil servant in the Treasury; 
Sheppard, now Sir J. T, Sheppard, Provost of King's College, Cam- 

144 ' Sowing 

says that the Society absorbed and dominated him, 
but that it not quite the end of the story. Through- 
out its history, every now and again an Apostle has 
dominated and left his impression, within its spirit 
and tradition, upon the Society. Sidgwick himself 
was one of these, and a century ago he dominated 
the Society, refertilizing and revivifying its spirit and 
tradition. And what Sidgwick did in the fifties of last 
century, G. E. Moore was doing when I was elected. 

Mrs. Sidney Webb once said to me: "I have known 
most of the distinguished men of my time, but I have 
never yet met a great man." I had admiration and 
affection for Beatrice Webb, but when, in her cold 
and beautiful voice, she pronounced one of these in- 
exorable Sinaic judgments in her tenebrous Gros- 
venor Road dining-room, gazing through the window 
across the river at the Doulton China Works, I used 
to feel that in one moment I should be submerged in 
despair and desolation, that I was a miserable fly 
crawling painfully up the Webbs' window to be 
swotted, long before I reached the top, by their 
merciless common-sense. But sometimes the fly gave a 
dying kick, and on this occasion I said: "I suppose 
you don't know G. E. Moore." No, she said, she did 
not know G. E. Moore, though she knew, of course, 
whom I meant, and the question of human great- 
ness having been settled, we passed to another ques- 

The author of Ecclesiasticus probably agreed with 
Beatrice Webb, for he asked us to praise not great 
men but famous men— a very different thing. The 
conversation in Grosvenor Road took place forty 

Cambridge • 7^5 

years ago, but I still think despite the two impressive 
authorities that I was right, that George Moore was 
a great man, the only great man whom I have ever 
met or known in the world of ordinary, real life. 
There was in him an element which can, I think, 
be accurately called greatness, a combination of mind 
and character and behaviour, of thought and feeling 
which made him qualitatively different from anyone 
else I have ever known. I recognize it in only one 
or two of the many famous dead men whom Ecclesias- 
ticus and others enjoin us to praise for one reason or 

It was, I suppose, in 1902 that I got to know 
Moore well. He was seven years my senior and al- 
ready a Fellow of Trinity. His mind was an extraor- 
dinarily powerful instrument; it was Socratic, ana- 
lytic. But unlike so many analytic philosophers, he 
never analyzed just for the pleasure or sake of analy- 
sis. He never indulged in logic-chopping or truth- 
chopping. He had a passion for truth, but not for all 
or any truth, only for important truths. He had no 
use for truths which Browning called "dead from the 
waist down." Towards the end of the nineteenth cen- 
tury there was an extraordinary outburst of phil- 
osophical brilliance in Cambridge. In 1902, among 
the Fellows of Trinity were four philosophers, all of 
whom were Apostles: J. E. McTaggart, A. N. \Vhite- 
head, Bertrand Russell, and G. E. Moore. McTag- 
gart was one of the strangest of men, an eccentric 
with a powerful mind which, when I knew him, 
seemed to have entirely left the earth for the in- 
extricably complicated cobwebs and O altitudos of 

1^6 • Sowing 

Hegelian ism. He had the most astonishing capacity 
for profound silence that I have ever known. He 
lived out of college, but he had an "evening" once 
a week on Thursdays when, if invited or taken by 
an invitee, you could go and see him in his rooms 
in Great Court. The chosen were very few, and Lytton, 
Saxon, and I, who were among them, every now and 
again nerved ourselves to the ordeal. McTaggart al- 
ways seemed glad to see us, but, having said good 
evening, he lay back on a sofa, his eyes fixed on the 
ceiling, in profound silence. Every five minutes he 
would roll his head from side to side, stare with his 
rather protuberant, rolling eyes round the circle of 
visitors, and then relapse into immobility. One of us 
would occasionally manage to think of something 
banal and halting to say, but I doubt whether I ever 
heard McTaggart initiate a conversation, and when 
he did say something it was usually calculated to 
bring to a sudden end any conversation initiated by 
one of us. Yet he did not seem to wish us not to be 
there; indeed, he appeared to be quite content that 
we should come and see him and sit for an hour in 

In the early 1890's McTaggart's influence was 
great. He was six years older than Russell and seven 
years older than Moore, and these two in their early 
days at Trinity were first converted to Hegelianism 
by McTaggart. But Moore could never tolerate any- 
thing but truth, common-sense, and reality, and he 
very soon revolted against Hegel: Bertrand Russell 
describes the revolt in the following words: 

Cambridge • i^y 

Moore, first, and I closely following him, climbed out 
of this mental prison and found ourselves again at liberty 
to breathe the free air of a universe restored to reality. 

When I came up to Trinity, McTaggart, though 
regarded with respect and amused affection as an ec- 
centric, had completely lost his intellectual and phil- 
osophical influence. The three other philosophers' 
reputation was great and growing, and they domi- 
nated the younger generation. In 1902 Whitehead was 
forty-one years old, Russell thirty, and Moore twenty- 
nine. It is a remarkable fact— a fine example of our 
inflexible irrationality and inveterate inconsistency 
—that, although no people has ever despised, dis- 
trusted, and rejected the intellect and intellectuals 
more than the British, these three philosophers were 
each awarded the highest and rarest of official hon- 
ours, the Order of Merit. 1903 was an annus mirab- 
ilis for Cambridge philosophy, for in that year were 
published Russell's Principles of Mathematics and 
Moore's Principia Ethica. Russell used to come to 
Moore's rooms sometimes in order to discuss some 
difficult problem that was holding him up. The con- 
trast between the two men and the two minds was as- 
tonishing and fascinating. Russell has the quickest 
mind of anyone I have ever known; like the greatest 
of chess players, he sees in a flash six moves ahead 
of the ordinary player and one move ahead of all the 
other Grand Masters. However serious he may be, 
his conversation scintillates with wit and a kind of 
puckish humour flickers through his thought. Like 
most people who possess this kind of mental bril- 
liance, in an argument a slower and duller opponent 

1^8 • Sowing 

may ruefully find that Russell is not always entirely 
scrupulous in taking advantage of his superior skill 
in the use of weapons. Moore was the exact opposite, 
and to listen to an argument between the two was 
like watching a race between the hare and the tor- 
toise. Quite often the tortoise won— and that, of 
course, was why Russell's thought had been so deeply 
influenced by Moore and why he still came to 
Moore's rooms to discuss difficult problems. 

Moore was not witty; I do not think that I ever 
heard him say a witty thing; there was no scintilla- 
tion in his conversation or in his thought. But he 
had an extraordinary profundity and clarity of 
thought, and he pursued truth with the tenacity of a 
bulldog and the integrity of a saint. And he had two 
other very rare characteristics. He had a genius for 
seeing what was important and what was unimpor- 
tant and irrelevant, in thought and in life and in 
persons, and in the most complicated argument or situ- 
ation he pursued the relevant and ignored the irrele- 
vant with amazing tenacity. He was able to do so be- 
cause of the second characteristic, the passion for 
truth (and, as I shall show, for other things) which 
burned in him. The tortoise so often won the race 
because of this combination of clarity, integrity, 
tenacity, and passion. 

The intensity of Moore's passion for truth was an 
integral part of his greatness, and purity of passion 
was an integral part of his whole character. On the 
surface and until you got to know him intimately, 
he appeared to be a very shy, reserved man, and on 
all occasions and in any company he might fall into 

Cambridge • j^p 

profound and protracted silence. When I first got to 
know him, the immensely high standards of thought 
and conduct which he seemed silently to demand of 
an intimate, the feeling that one should not say any- 
thing unless the thing was both true and worth say- 
ing, the silences which would certainly envelope him 
and you, tinged one's wish to see him with some anx- 
iety, and I know that standing at the door of his 
room, before knocking and going in, I often took a 
deep breath just as one does on a cool day before one 
dives into the cold green sea. For a young man it was 
a formidable, an alarming experience, but, like the 
plunge into the cold sea, once one had nerved one- 
self to take it, extraordinarily exhilarating. This 
kind of tension relaxed under the influence of time, 
intimacy, and affection, but I do not think that it 
ever entirely disappeared— a proof, perhaps, of the 
quality of greatness which distinguished Moore from 
other people. 

His reserve and silences covered deep feeling. 
When Moore said: '*I simply don't understand what 
he means," the emphasis on the "simply" and the 
"what" and the shake of his head over each word 
gave one a glimpse of the passionate distress which 
muddled thinking aroused in him. We used to watch 
with amusement and admiration the sisfns of the 
same thing when he sat reading a book, pencil in 
hand and continually scoring the poor wretch of a 
writer's muddled sentences with passionate under- 
linings and exclamation marks. I used to play fives 
with him at Cambridge, and he played the game ^^'ith 
the same passion as that with which he pursued 

i^o ' Sowing 

truth; after a few minutes in the court the sweat 
poured down his face in streams and soaked his 
clothes— it was excitement as well as exercise. It was 
the same with music. He played the piano and sang, 
often to Lytton Strachey and me in his rooms and 
on reading parties in Cornwall. He was not a highly 
skilful pianist or singer, but I have never been given 
greater pleasure from playing or singing. This was 
due partly to the quality of his voice, but principally 
to the intelligence of his understanding and to the 
subtlety and intensity of his feeling. He played the 
Waldstein sonata or sang ''Ich grolle nicht" with the 
same passion with which he pursued truth; when the 
last note died away, he would sit absolutely still, his 
hands resting on the keys, and the sweat streaming 
down his face. 

Moore's mind was, as I said, Socratic. His charac- 
ter, too, and his influence upon us as young men at 
Cambridge were Socratic. It is clear from Plato and 
Xenophon that Socrates's strange simplicity and in- 
tegrity were enormously attractive to the young 
Athenians who became his disciples, and he inspired 
great affection as well as admiration. So did Moore. 
Plato in the Symposium shows us a kind of cosmic 
absurdity in the monumental simplicity of Socrates; 
and such different people as Alcibiades, Aristophanes, 
and Agathon "rag" him about it and laugh at him 
gently and affectionately. There was the same kind 
of divine absurdity in Moore. Socrates had the gxeat 
advantage of combining a very beautiful soul with a 
very ugly face, and the Athenians of the fifth cen- 

Cambridge • 757 

tury B.C. were just the people to appreciate the joke 
of that. Moore had not that advantage. When 1 first 
knew him, his face was amazingly beautiful, almost 
ethereal, and, as Bertrand Russell has said, "he had, 
what he retained throughout his life, an extraordi- 
narily lovable smile." But he resembled Socrates in 
possessing a profound simplicity, a simplicity which 
Tolstoy and some other Russian writers consider to 
produce the finest human beings. These human be- 
ings are "simples" or even "sillies"; they are absurd 
in ordinary life and by the standards of sensible and 
practical men. There is a superb description of a 
"silly" in Tolstoy's autobiography and, of course, in 
Dostoevsky's The Idiot. In many ways Moore was 
one of these divine "sillies." It showed itself perhaps 
in such simple, unrestrained, passionate gestures as 
when, if told something particularly astonishing or 
confronted by some absurd statement at the crisis of 
an argument, his eyes would open wide, his eyebrows 
shoot up, and his tongue shoot out of his mouth. And 
Bertrand Russell has described the pleasure with 
which one used to watch Moore trying unsuccessfully 
to light his pipe when he was arguing an important 
point. He would light a match, hold it over the bowl 
of his pipe until it burnt his fingers and he had to 
throw it away, and go on doing this— talking the 
whole time or listening intently to the other man's 
argument— until the whole box of matches was ex- 

After I went to Ceylon, Moore wrote me some 
letters which, I think, may give to those who never 

1^2 * Sowing 

knew him some feeling of his bleak simplicity which 
was at the same time so endearing, his complete in- 
ability to say anything which he did not think or feel, 
and the psychological atmosphere which surrounded 
him and which, as I have said, it was both alarming 
and exhilarating to plunge into. Here are two of his 

1 1 Buccleuch Place 
March i6, '05 

Dear Woolf, 

It is very shameful of me not to have answered your 
letter sooner: it is now nearly three weeks since I got 
it. I was very, very pleased to get it: I had been wanting 
to write to you before it came, and was afraid you were 
not going to write. The reason why I haven't written, in 
spite of wanting to, is that I don't know what to say. I 
have begun three letters to you already before this one; 
but I wouldn't finish them, because they were so bad. 
I'm afraid I have nothing to say, which is worth saying; 
or, if I have, I cannot express it. 

I do not work any better than I used to, and am just 
as little interested in anything. As for my work, I have 
not yet written my review of the "Principles of Mathe- 
matics"; and it seems as if I never should. I think I should 
scarcely get on any faster with my book, even if I had 
begun that. 

Ainsworth and I hardly ever see anyone here. He works 
very well; and the rest of the time I play the piano to 
him, or we read together. We have read three of Jane 
Austen's this term. We have only played golf once a 
week so far; but we have just been elected members 
of the club, so that we shall probably play oftener. I 

Cambridge • 755 

think I have improved a little; but I am still very bad 

I went to Cambridge and back a fortnight ago, all 
within twenty-four hours, to vote in favour of Com- 
pulsory Greek. As it turned out, I needn't have gone, for 
we were 1,500 to 1,000. I found the new brother at 
Strachey's; but he hardly said anything while I was there, 
and was not so very attractive at first sight, as I had 
thought he would be from their description of him. 

There is to be a reading-party at Easter; but I almost 
wish there were not to be: I do feel so incapable of en- 
joying anything. I wish you could be there. As it is, I 
don't know who there will be, except Strachey and Mac- 
Carthy and ourselves. 

My brother* has just published a book on Diirer. 
There is a great deal of philosophy in it, which begins 
with this sentence: "I conceive the human reason to be 
the antagonist of all forces other than itself." I do wish 
people wouldn't write such silly things— things, which, 
one would have thought, it is so perfectly easy to see to 
be just false. I suppose my brother's philosophy may have 
some merits: but it seems to me just like all wretched 
philosophy— vague, and obviously inconsequent, and full 
of falsehoods. I think its object is to be like a sermon— 
to make you appreciate good things; and I sometimes 
wonder whether it is possible to do this without 
saying what is false. But it does annoy me terribly that 
people should admire such things— as they do. I hope you 
will soon get away from Jaffna. I suppose it is very fiat 
and very hot; and I think there must be more nice Eng- 
lishmen somewhere in Ceylon. 

Ainsworth sends his love. 


G. E. Moore. 

• Thomas Sturge Moore, the poet. 

1^4 ' Sowing 

6 Pembroke Villas, The Green, 
Richmond, Surrey. 
December i, '08. 

Dear Woolf, 

I ami sending you, enclosed with this, a copy of my last 
publication. I am sending it, because Strachey said he 
thought you would like to have it, and at the same time 
gave me your address. Did I send you the one before, pub- 
lished in 1906? That was a much more interesting and 
important one. I expect I didn't send it; but I can't feel 
quite sure that I didn't. If I didn't, and you would like it, 
I will send you that too. I have always remembered very 
well that I promised, before you went away, to send you 
everything I published. But it is so difficult, after such a 
long time, to feel sure that anyone wants such a promise 

I wish I had written to you sometimes: that is to say, 
if you would have liked to hear from me. The last letter 
I had from you was in May 1905, nearly four years ago; 
and I never answered it. I did, in fact, write an answer to 
it once; but I was ashamed to send it. The truth is I can- 
not write decently to anyone; I always say such silly 
things, which don't seem to express what I mean. You 
said in your last letter to me that you felt something like 
this too; so perhaps you will understand. 

I expect Strachey will have told you about our leaving 
Edinburgh, and about Ainsworth's marrying my sister. 

I have not found that it makes much difference to me, 
my coming here. I had hoped that I should see a great 
deal of people that I wanted to see, and that it would be 
more like Cambridge again. But in fact I hardly ever see 
anyone except my family. 

I was a good deal excited about the marriage, especially 
when they were first engaged. You know they were only 

Cambridge • i^^ 

engaged for two months before they married, and of 
course Ainsworth was constantly coming here. He was 
very happy; and I wished I could have been engaged too. 
You know they are coming to live here with me after 
Christmas. I suppose it is rather an unusual arrange- 
ment; but I don't see why it shouldn't succeed. 

I don't think you would find me at all altered from 
what I was. The only difference I notice is that I seem to 
find it more and more difficult to write anything about 
philosophy. The only things I have written in all these 
years, besides a few reviews in the International Journal 
and some MSS for private persons, are these two papers— 
the one I'm sending and the one of 1906. I haven't 
written a line of my book. I have always been engaged 
either on reviews or on something else, spending no end 
of time on them with hardly any result. All this year I 
have been trying to write an article on Hume for Mac- 
Carthy's New Quarterly, and nothing is done yet, though 
I've begun it over and over again. I feel very different 
about it at different times. Sometimes I seem to see how 
I could do it; very often I feel as if I can't or won't try; 
and, when I do try, I almost always seem to lose the 
thread: and there are many other different states of 
mind too. 

Are you coming home this next year? I hope, if you do 
come, I shall see you a great deal. I have heard very 
little about you. 

Yours very affectionately 
G. E. Moore. 

This single-minded simplicity permeated his life, 
and the absurdity which it often produced in every- 
day life added to one's admiration and affection for 
him. Like Socrates, he attracted a number of friends 
and followers as different from one another as Plato 

1^6 • Sowing 

and Aristophanes were from Alcibiades and Xeno- 
phon. They ranged from Lytton Strachey and Des- 
mond MacCarthy to Sir Ralph Wedgwood,* Lord 
Keynes, and Sir Edward Marsh. t Everyone enjoyed 
Moore's absurdities, laughed at them, and he shared 
the enjoyment. For although not himself actively 
witty or humorous, he had a fine, sensitive sense of 
humour. In conversation Lytton Strachey's snake-like 
witticisms greatly amused him, but the wit and hu- 
mour which he liked best, I think, were Desmond 
MacCarthy's. Desmond was half Irish and his hu- 
mour had the soft, lovely charm which traditionally 
is characteristic of Ireland. He was a brilliant talker 
and raconteur, and he could make Moore laugh as 
no one else could. And Moore laughed, when he did 
laugh, with the same passion with which he pursued 
truth or played a Beethoven sonata. A frequent scene 
which I like to look back upon is Desmond standing 
in front of a fireplace telling a long, fantastic story in 
his gentle voice and Moore lying back on a sofa or 

* Ralph Wedgwood was a contemporary of Moore's at Trinity. 
He was Chief General Manager of London and North-Eastern Rail- 
way from 1923 to 1939 and Chairman, Railways Executive Com- 
mitte from 1939 to 1941. Knighted in 1924, he was created Baronet 
in 1942. 

t Eddie Marsh was also a contemporary of Moore's at Trinity. 
He entered the Civil Service in the Colonial Office in 1896. He was 
for many years Private Secretary to Sir Winston Churchill, but 
during his official career he was also Private Secretary to Joseph 
Chamberlain, Alfred Lyttleton, Asquith, J. H. Thomas, and Mal- 
colm Macdonald. He was a well-known patron of the arts and a 
man about town with an eye-glass in his eye. But when I was up at 
Trinity, he still from time to time came up for a weekend and 
appeared in Moore's rooms. 


Cambridge • i^y 

deep in an armchair, his pipe, as usual, out, shaking 
from head to foot in a long paroxysm of laughter. 

During the Easter vac. Moore always arranged a 
"reading party." Only Apostles were asked and only 
those with whom Moore felt completely at ease, and 
that by no means covered everyone even among the 
elect. Of the undergraduates still up at Cambridge, 
Ainsworth, Lytton Strachey, and I used to go, and a 
certain number of older men who had gone down 
came, at any rate for the Easter holidays. Desmond 
MacCarthy, Theodore Llewelyn Davies of the Treas- 
ury, Robin Mayor of the Education Office, Charlie 
Sanger, a barrister, and Bob Trevelyan, the poet, 
were always asked and always came if they could. We 
went, twice I think, to the Lizard in Cornwall and 
once to Hunter's Inn in Devon. I enjoyed these 
"reading parties" enormously; I suppose we did 
sometimes read something, but in memory the days 
seem to me to have passed in talking and walking— 
and if they are good, few things can be better than 
walking and talking. Both were, I think, really very 
good and it was very exciting for a young undergrad- 
uate to be able to form intimate friendships with 
these older men— friendships which in fact lasted un- 
til death ended them.* In the evenings Moore sang 
and played for us, and then we talked and argued 
again. Moore was at his best on these "parties"; he 
liked everyone and was at his ease with them. 

I feel that I must now face the difficult task of say- 

* Today all are dead. Theodore Davies, a man of extraordinary 
brilliance and great charm, was killed yoinig in a tragic accident. 
All the others remained intimate friends for thirty or forty years. 

1^8 • Sowing 

ing something about Moore's influence upon my gen- 
eration. There is no doubt that it was immense. 
Maynard Keynes in his Two Memoirs wrote a fasci- 
nating, an extremely amusing account or analysis of 
this influence of Moore upon us as young men. Much 
of what he says is, of course, true and biographically 
or autobiographically important. Maynard's mind 
was incredibly quick and supple, imaginative and 
restless; he was always thinking new and original 
thoughts, particularly in the field of events and hu- 
man behaviour and in the reaction between events 
and men's actions. He had the very rare gift of being 
as brilliant and effective in practice as he was in 
theory, so that he could outwit a banker, business 
man, or Prime Minister as quickly and gracefully as 
he could demolish a philosopher or crush an econo- 
mist. It was these gifts which enabled him to revo- 
lutionize economic theory and national economic and 
financial policy and practice, and to make a consider- 
able fortune by speculation and a considerable figure 
in the City and in the world which is concerned with 
the patronage or production of the arts, and particu- 
larly the theatre and ballet. But most people who 
knew him intimately and his mind in shirtsleeves 
rather than public uniform would agree that there 
were in him some streaks of intellectual wilfulness 
and arrogance which often led him into surprisingly 
wrong and perverse judgments. To his friends he was 
a lovable character and these faults or idiosyncra- 
cies were observed and discounted with affectionate 

It is always dangerous to speak the truth about 

Cambridge • i^p 

one's most intimate friends, because the truth and 
motives for telling it are almost invariably misun- 
derstood. In all the years that I knew Maynard and 
in all the many relations of intimacy and business 
which I had with him, I never had even the ghost of 
a quarrel or the shadow of unpleasantness, though 
we often disagreed about things, persons, or policies. 
He was essentially a lovable person. But to people 
who were not his friends, to subordinates and to 
fools in their infinite variety whom one has to deal 
with in business or just daily life, he could be any- 
thing but lovable; he might, at any moment and 
sometimes quite unjustifiably, annihilate some un- 
fortunate with ruthless rudeness. I once heard him 
snap out to an auditor who was trying to explain to 
the Board of Directors of a company some item in the 
audited accounts: "We all know, Mr. X., that au- 
ditors consider that the object of accounts is to con- 
ceal the truth, but surely not even you can believe 
that their object is to conceal the truth from the 

It was this streak of impatience and wilfulness com- 
bined with a restless and almost fantastic imamna- 
tion which often induced Maynard to make absurdly 
wrong judgments. But once having committed him- 
self to one of his opinions or judgments, theories or 
fantasies, he would without compunction use all the 
powers and brilliance of his mind, his devastating 
wit and quickness, to defend it, and in the end would 
often succeed in convincing not only his opponent, 
but himself. In several points in Two Memoirs his 
recollection and interpretation are quite ^vrong about 

i6o • Sowing 

Moore's influence, I think. His main point in the 
memoir is that Moore in Principia Ethica pro- 
pounded both a religion and a system of morals and 
that we as young men accepted the religion, but 
discarded the morals. He defines "religion" to mean 
one's attitude towards oneself and the ultimate, and 
"morals" to mean one's attitude towards the outside 
world and the intermediate. Moore's religion which 
we accepted, according to Maynard, maintained that 
"nothing mattered except states of mind, our own 
and other people's of course, but chiefly our own. 
These states of mind were not associated with action 
or achievement or with consequences. They con- 
sisted in timeless, passionate states of contemplation 
and communion, largely unattached to 'before' and 
'after' . . . The appropriate objects of passionate 
contemplation and communion were a beloved per- 
son, beauty and truth, and one's prime objects in 
life were love, the creation and enjoyment of aes- 
thetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge. Of 
these love came a long way first." 

Although Maynard calls this doctrine which we 
accepted a "faith" and a "religion," he says that 
Moore's disciples and indeed Moore himself regarded 
it as entirely rational and scientific, and applied an 
extravagantly rationalistic, scholastic method for as- 
certaining what states of affairs were or were not 
good. The resulting beliefs were fantastically ideal- 
istic and remote from reality and "real" life. The 
effect of this curious amalgam of extreme rational- 
ism, unworldliness, and dogmatic belief was in- 
tensified by our complete neglect of Moore's "morals.'* 





l.connn] ]]'o()If 
as (I s( hoolhoy 

'Ti^ fewre! ici kv6 wlieii hearts are yimsg and bold; 
'Ik }m u wurk aai ^aii iM wreath of gold, 
And liappy they, who after hmj strife 
^0 well riiBlefi! wiay spent tlw f\e of life. 

The de Jonghs, the author's maternal grandfja rents, on 
their wedding day and on their golden wedding day 

iUdney Woolf, Q.C., the aitthofs father; and Marie Woolf, the author's 
nother, in the dress in ivhich she was "presented" 

The Woolf family in iS86; Leonard Woolf on extreme right, front row 


^^^^^ ^^^^^ ^^^^H 






Tlie SJiahespeare Society, Trinity College, 

C(inib)i(lge. Bach row: TJioby StcpJicu, second 

from left; ]Valter Lamb, later Secretary to the 

Royal Academy, extreme right. 

Front row: Lytton Strachey, extreme left: 

R. K. Gaye, second from right: Leonard IToo/f. 

extreme rinht 

Duncan Grant and Maynard Kcyties 









Leslie Sh'j)/i('n and his ddiio^liler J'iyoinia 

Virginia Stephen, 
about 1 002 

Vanessa Stephen, 
about ipo2 

Cambridge • j6i 

We paid no attention at all to his doctrine of the 
importance of rightness and wrongness as an attri- 
bute of actions or to the whole question of the jus- 
tification of general rules of conduct. The result 
was that we assumed that human beings were all ra- 
tional, but we were complete "immoralists," recogniz- 
ing "no moral obligation on us, no inner sanction, to 
conform or obey." 

In my recollection this is a distorted picture of 
Moore's beliefs and doctrine at the time of the pub- 
lication of his Principia Ethica and of the influence 
of his philosophy and character upon us when we 
were young men up at Cambridge in the years 1901 
to 1904. The tremendous influence of Moore and his 
book upon us came from the fact that they suddenly 
removed from our eyes an obscuring accumulation 
of scales, cobwebs, and curtains, revealing for the 
first time to us, so it seemed, the nature of truth and 
reality, of good and evil and character and conduct, 
substituting for the religious and philosophical night- 
mares, delusions, hallucinations, in which Jehovah, 
Christ, and St. Paul, Plato, Kant, and Hegel had 
entangled us, the fresh air and pure light of plain 

It was this clarity, freshness, and common-sense 
which primarily appealed to us. Here was a profound 
philosopher who did not require us to accept any 
"religious" faith or intricate, if not unintelligible, in- 
tellectual gymnastics of a Platonic, Aristotelian, 
Kantian, or Hegelian nature; all he asked us to do 
was to make quite certain that we knew what we 
meant when we made a statement and to analyze and 

i62 • Solving 

examine our beliefs in the light of common-sense. 
Philosophically what, as intelligent young men, we 
wanted to know was the basis, if any, for our or any 
scale of values and rules of conduct, what justifica- 
tion there was for our belief that friendship or works 
of art for instance were good or for the belief that 
one ought to do some things and not do others. 
Moore's distinction between things good in them- 
selves or as ends and things good merely as means, 
his passionate search for truth in his attempt in 
Principia Ethica to determine what things are good 
in themselves, answered our questions, not with the 
religious voice of Jehovah from Mount Sinai or 
Jesus with his sermon from the Mount, but with the 
more divine voice of plain common-sense. 

On one side of us, we were in 1901 very serious 
young men. We were sceptics in search of truth and 
ethical truth. Moore, so we thought, gave us a sci- 
entific basis for believing that some things were good 
in themselves. But we were not "immoralists"; it is 
not true that we recognized "no moral obligation on 
us, no inner sanction, to conform or obey" or that we 
neglected all that Moore said about "morals" and 
rules of conduct. It is true that younger generations, 
like their elders, were much less politically and so- 
cially conscious in the years before the 1914 war than 
they have been ever since. Bitter experience has 
taught the world, including the young, the impor- 
tance of codes of conduct and morals and "practical 
politics." But Moore himself was continually exer- 
cised by the problems of goods and bads as means, of 
morality and rules of conduct, and therefore of the 

Cambridge • i6^ 

life of action as opposed to the life of contemplation. 
He and we were fascinated by questions of what was 
right and wrong, what one ought to do. We followed 
him closely in this as in other parts of his doctrine 
and argued interminably about the consequences of 
one's actions, both in actual and imaginary situa- 
tions. Indeed, one of the problems which worried us 
was what part Moore (and we, his disciples) ought 
to play in ordinary life, what, for instance, our at- 
titude ought to be towards practical politics. I still 
possess a paper which I wrote for discussion in 1903 
and which is explicitly concerned with these prob- 
lems. It asks the question whether we ought to fol- 
low the example of George Trevelyan,* and take 
part in practical politics, going down into the gloomy 
Platonic cave, where "men sit bound prisoners guess- 
ing at the shadows of reality and boasting that they 
have found truth," or whether we should imitate 
George Moore, who, though *'he has no small knowl- 
edge of the cave dwellers, leaves alone their struggles 
and competitions." I said that the main question I 
wanted to ask was: ''Can we and ought we to com- 
bine the two Georges in our own lives?" And was it 
rational that George Moore, the philosopher, should 
take no part in practical politics, or "right that w^e 
should as we do so absolutely ignore their questions"? 
My answer in 1903 was perfectly definite that we 
ought to take part in practical politics, and the last 

* George Macaulay Trevelyan, O.M., the historian and for many 
years Master of Trinity College. He was four years my senior at 
Trinity and, when I first knew him, had just become a Fellow of 
the college. He was a rather fiercely political young man. 

i6^ • Sowing 

words of my paper are: "While philosophers sit out- 
side the cave, their philosophy will never reach 
politicians or people, so that after all, to put it 
plainly, I do want Moore to draft an Education 

I have said that we were very serious young men. 
We were, indeed, but superficially we often appeared 
to be the exact opposite, and, so, enraged or even hor- 
rified a good many people. After all we were young 
once— we were young in 1903; and we were not nearly 
as serious and solemn as we appeared to some people. 
We were serious about what we considered to be seri- 
ous in the universe or in man and his life, but we 
had a sense of humour and we felt that it was not 
necessary to be solemn because one was serious, and 
that there are practically no questions or situations 
in which intelligent laughter may not be healthily 
catalytic. Henry Sidgwick, in his Memoir, looking 
back in old age to the year 1856 when he was elected 
an Apostle, wrote: 

No consistency was demanded with opinions previously 
held— truth as we saw it then and there was what we had 
to embrace and maintain, and there were no propositions 
so well established that an Apostle had not the right to 
deny or question, if he did so sincerely and not from mere 
love of paradox. The gravest subjects were continually 
debated, but gravity of treatment, as I have said, was not 
imposed, though sincerity was. In fact it was rather a 
point of the apostolic mind to understand how much 
suggestion and instruction may be derived from what is 
in form a jest— even in dealing with the gravest matters. 

Cambridge • i6^ 

I am writing today just over a century after the year 
in which Sidgwick was elected an Apostle, and look- 
ing back to the year 1903 I can say that our beliefs, 
our discussions, our intellectual behaviour in 1903 
were in every conceivable way exactly the same as 
those described by Sidgwick. The beliefs "fantasti- 
cally idealistic and remote from reality and real life," 
the absurd arguments, "the extravagantly scholastic" 
method were not as simple or silly as they seemed. 
Lytton Strachey's mind was fundamentally and ha- 
bitually ribald and he had developed a protective in- 
tellectual facade in which a highly personal and cyni- 
cal wit and humour played an important part. It was 
very rarely safe to accept the face value of what he 
said; within he was intensely serious about what he 
thought important, but on the surface his method 
was to rely on "suggestion and instruction derived 
from what is in form a jest— even in dealing with the 
gravest matters." I think that in my case, too, there 
was a natural tendency to express myself ironically— 
and precisely in matters or over questions about 
which one felt deeply as being of great importance 
—for irony and the jest are used, particularly when 
one is young, as antidotes to pomposity. Of course 
we were young once; we were young in 1903, and we 
had the arrogance and the extravagance natural to 
the young. 

The intellectual, when young, has always been in 
all ages enthusiastic and passionate and therefore he 
has tended to be intellectually arrogant and ruth- 
less. Our youth, the years of my generation at Cam- 
bridge, coincided with the end and the beoinnino 

i66 ' Sowing 

of a century which was also the end of one era and 
the beginning of another. When in the grim, grey, 
rainy January days of 1901 Queen Victoria lay dying, 
we already felt that we were living in an era of in- 
cipient revolt and that we ourselves were mortally 
involved in this revolt against a social system and 
code of conduct and morality which, for conveni- 
ence' sake, may be referred to as bourgeois Victorian- 
ism. We did not initiate this revolt. When we went 
up to Cambridge, its protagonists were Swinburne, 
Bernard Shaw, Samuel Butler in The Way of All 
Fleshy and to some extent Hardy and Wells. We were 
passionately on the side of these champions of free- 
dom of speech and freedom of thought, of common- 
sense and reason. We felt that, with them as our 
leaders, we were struggling against a religious and 
moral code of cant and hypocrisy which produced 
and condoned such social crimes and judicial mur- 
ders as the condemnation of Dreyfus. People of a 
younger generation who from birth have enjoyed the 
results of this struggle for social and intellectual 
emancipation cannot realize the stuffy intellectual 
and moral suffocation which a young man felt weigh- 
ing down upon him in Church and State, in the 
''rules and conventions" of the last days of Victorian 
civilization. Nor can those who have been born into 
the world of great wars, of communism and national 
socialism and fascism, of Hitler and Mussolini and 
Stalin, of the wholesale judicial murders of their own 
fellow-countrymen or massacres of peasants by Rus- 
sian communists, and the slaughter of millions of 
Jews in gas-chambers by German Nazis, these younger 

Cambridge • i6y 

generations can have no notion of what the long- 
drawn-out tragedy of the Dreyfus case meant to us. 
Over the body and fate of one obscure Jewish cap- 
tain in the French army a kind of cosmic conflict went 
on year after year between the establishment of 
Church, Army, and State on the one side and the 
small band of intellectuals who fought for truth, 
reason, and justice on the other. Eventually the whole 
of Europe, almost the whole world seemed to be 
watching breathlessly, ranged upon one side or other 
in the conflict. And no one who was not one of the 
watchers can understand the extraordinary sense of 
relief and release when at last the innocence of Drey- 
fus was vindicated and justice was done. I still think 
that we were right and that the Dreyfus case might, 
with a slight shift in the current of events, have been 
a turning point in European history and civilization. 
All that can really be said against us is that our hopes 
were disappointed. 

It is true that in a sense "we had no respect for tra- 
ditional wisdom" and that, as Ludwig Wittgenstein 
complained, "we lacked reverence for everything and 
everyone." If "to revere" means, as the dictionary says, 
"to regard as sacred or exalted, to hold in religious re- 
spect," then we did not revere, we had no reverence 
for anything or anyone, and, so far as I am concerned, 
I think we were completely right; I remain of the 
same opinion still— I think it to be, not merely my 
right, but my duty to question the truth of every- 
thing and the authority of everyone, to regard noth- 
ing as sacred and to hold nothing in religious respect. 
That attitude was encouraged by the climate of seep- 

1 68 • Sowing 

ticism and revolt into which we were born and by 
Moore's ingenuous passion for truth. The dictionary, 
however, gives an alternative meaning for the word 
''revere"; it may mean "to regard with deep respect 
and warm approbation." It is not true that we lacked 
reverence for everything and everyone in that sense 
of the word. After questioning the truth and utility 
of everything and after refusing to accept or swallow 
anything or anyone on the mere "authority" of any- 
one, in fact after exercising our own judgment, there 
were many things and persons regarded by us with 
"deep respect and warm approbation": truth, beauty, 
works of art, some customs, friendship, love, many 
living men and women and many of the dead. 

The young are not only ruthless; they are often 
perfectionist; if they are intelligent, they are inclined 
to react against the beliefs which have hardened into 
the fossilized dogmas of the previous generation. To 
the middle-aged, who have forgotten their youth, the 
young naturally seem to be not only wrong, but 
wrong-headed (and indeed they naturally often are); 
to the middle-aged and the old, if they are also re- 
spectable, the young seem to be, not only wrong, but 
intellectually ill-mannered (and indeed they often 
are). In 1903 we were often absurd, wrong, ^vrong- 
headed, ill-mannered; but in 1903 we were right in 
refusing to regard as sacred and exalted, to hold in 
religious respect the extraordinary accomplishment 
of our predecessors in the ordering of life or the elab- 
orate framework which they had devised to protect 
this order. We were right to question the truth and 
authority of all this, of respectability and the estab- 

Cambridge • i6^ 

lishment, and to give our deep respect and warm ap- 
probation only to what in the establishment (and 
outside it) stood the test and ordeal of such ques- 

It will be remembered that Maynard's Memoir , in 
which he analyses the state of our minds (and 
Moore's) when we were undergraduates, starts with 
an account of a breakfast party in Bertrand Russell's 
rooms in Cambridge, at which only Russell, May- 
nard, and D. H. Lawrence were present. Lawrence 
was "morose from the outset and said very little, 
apart from indefinite expressions of irritable dissent, 
all the morning." And in a letter to David Garnett, 
Lawrence referred to this visit of his to Cambridge as 

My dear David, 

Never bring Birrell to see me any more. There is some- 
thing nasty about him like black beetles. He is horrible 
and unclean. I feel I should go mad when I think of your 
set, Duncan Grant and Keynes and Birrell. It makes me 
dream of beetles. In Cambridge I had a similar dream. I 
had felt it slightly before in the Stracheys. But it came 
full upon me in Keynes and Duncan Grant. And yester- 
day I knew it again in Birrell . . . you must leave these 
friends, these beetles, Birrell and Duncan Grant are done 
for ever. Keynes I am not sure . . . when I saw Keynes 
that morning in Cambridge it was one of the crises of my 
life. It sent me mad with misery and hostility and 
rage . . . 

Maynard, starting from the breakfast party and this 
letter, examines the question whether there was in 
fact something in Lawrence's judgment, some justifi- 

I'jo • Sowing 

cation for his horror and rage against "us," whether 
we were horrible and unclean and black beetles. His 
account of us, his dissection of our spiritual and in- 
tellectual anatomy, leads him to conclude that there 
was something in what Lawrence said and felt— there 
was a "thinness and superficiality, as well as the fal- 
sity, of our view of man's heart," we were "water- 
spiders, gracefully skimming, as light and reasonable 
as air, the surface of the stream without any contact 
with the eddies and currents underneath." In this, 
and indeed in the whole of the Memoir, Maynard 
confuses, I think, two periods of his and of our lives. 
When our Cambridge days were over, there grew up 
in London during the years 1907 to 1914 a society or 
group of people which became publicly known as 
Bloomsbury. Later in my autobiography I shall have 
to say a good deal about Bloomsbury, the private na- 
ture and the public picture. Here all I need say is 
that Bloomsbury grew directly out of Cambridge; it 
consisted of a number of intimate friends who had 
been at Trinity and King's and were no^v working in 
London, most of them living in Bloomsbury. 

Lawrence's breakfast party took place in 1914 or 
1915. The people to whom he refers are not the un- 
dergraduates of 1903, but Bloomsbury, and a great 
deal of what Maynard wrote in his Memoir is true of 
Bloomsbury in 1914, but not true of the undergradu- 
ates of 1903. In 1903 we had all the inexperience, 
virginity, seriousness, intellectual puritanism of 
youth. In 1914 we had all, in various ways or places, 
been knocking about the world for ten or eleven 
years. A good deal of the bloom of ignorance and 

Cambridge • lyi 

other things had been brushed off us. Principia Ethica 
had passed into our unconscious and was now merely 
a part of our super-ego; we no longer argued about it 
as a guide to practical life. Some of us were "men of 
the world" or even Don Juans, and all round us there 
was taking place the revolt (which we ourselves in 
our small way helped to start) against the Victorian 
morality and code of conduct. In 1914 little or no 
attention was paid to Moore's fifth chapter on ''Ethics 
in relation to Conduct," and pleasure, once rejected 
by us theoretically, had come to be accepted as a very 
considerable good in itself. But this was not the case 
in 1903. 

Moore and the Society were the focus of my exist- 
ence during my last years at Cambridge. They domi- 
nated me intellectually and also emotionally, and did 
the same to Lytton Strachey and to Saxon Sydney- 
Turner. We were already intimate friends, seeing 
one another every day, before we were elected and 
got to know Moore well, but Moore's influence and 
the Society's gave, I think, increased depth and mean- 
ing to our relationship. I daresay to a good many 
people with whom we came into superficial contact 
we seemed, not without reason, unpleasant. Trinity 
was such a large college that, when we were up, one 
soon formed one's own circle of friends and acquaint- 
ances and rarely troubled or was troubled by those 
who belonged to other sets. The hostility of the ordi- 
nary man to the scholar and intellectual was there- 
fore a good deal less important and less noticeable in 
Trinity than in some of the small colleges. It was 
only on nights of bump-suppers and similar drunks 

i']2 • Sowing 

and celebrations that an intellectual or anyone who 
looked like an intellectual had to be careful to keep 
out of the way of the "bloods" and athletes. But I 
think that we— and Lytton in particular— got a special 
measure of dislike and misprision from the athletes 
and their followers— "the little men in waistcoats," as 
Thoby Stephen called them— on the rare occasions 
when our paths happened to converge. There was 
some reason, as I said above, for their finding us un- 
pleasant, for we were not merely obviously much too 
clever to be healthy "good fellows," we were arro- 
gant, supercilious, cynical, sarcastic, and Lytton al- 
ways looked very queer and had a squeaky voice. 

It must be admitted that it was not only among the 
toughs and bloods that we were unpopular. I still 
possess some letters, written in 1901 and full of the 
uncompromizing ferocity of youth which show this. 
During my second year at Trinity I had become 
friendly with a fellow scholar, himself an intellectual 
of considerable powers. When after a time he seemed 
to avoid me, I asked him the reason, and he ex- 
plained his position in letters from which the follow- 
ing are extracts: 

I cannot endure the people I meet in your rooms. 
Either they or I had to go, and as I was the newest and 
alone I waived my claim to the older friends and the 
majority. Strachey . . . &c. are to me in their several 
ways the most offensive people I have ever met, and if I 
had continued to meet them daily, I could not be answer- 
able for anything I might do ... I am not what is known 
as religious, but I was not going to associate with people 
who scoffed and jeered at my religion: fair criticism given 

Cambridge • 775 

in a gentlemanly way I do not mind. But the tone of 
Strachey and even you on matters of religion was not 
gentlemanly to me ... I have never been in your rooms 
without someone coming in whom I do not like, usually 
Strachey ... I always spoke to you as a friend to a 
friend, except when Strachey was with you. Silence is 
then safer. 

As one grows older or, even more, as one grows old, 
it is easy and pleasant to make either of two mistakes 
in one's memories of those few years when in one's 
early twenties one lived in a Cambridge college. One 
can foolishly idealize and sentimentalize youth and 
the young, and so oneself as young. Or one can do 
the opposite and join the many angry old men who 
are enviously exasperated by the young and therefore 
remember only the stupidities and humiliations of 
their own youth. There is a certain amount of truth 
in each of these views or visions, so that either ac- 
cepted absolutely and unmodified by the other is 
simply false. My own experience is that I have never 
again been quite so happy or quite so miserable as I 
was in the five years at Cambridge from 1899 to 1904. 
One lived in a state of continual excitement and 
strong and deep feeling. We \vere intellectuals, intel- 
lectuals with three genuine and, I think, profound 
passions: a passion for friendship, a passion for litera- 
ture and music (it is significant that the plastic arts 
came a good deal later), a passion for what w^e called 
the truth. 

What made everything so exciting wms that every- 
thing was new, anything might happen, and all life 
was before us. We looked before, not after, and our 

ly^ • Sowing 

laughter, continual and sincere, was not fraught with 
pain, just as our pain was as pure as our laughter. We 
lived in extremes— of happiness and unhappiness, of 
admiration and contempt, of love and hate. I might 
any day or hour or minute turn a corner and find 
myself face to face with someone whom I had never 
met before but who would instantly become my 
friend for life. I might casually open a book and find 
that I was reading for the first time War and Peace, 
The Brothers Karamazov, Madame Bovary, Hedda 
Gahler, Urn Burial, or The Garden of Proserpine. I 
might wake up tomorrow morning and find that I 
could at last write the great poem that fluttered help- 
lessly at the back of my mind or the great novel rum- 
bling hopelessly in some strange depths inside me. 
We all wanted to be writers ourselves, and what 
added to our excitement was that we could share our 
ambitions, our beliefs, our hopes, and fears. By "we" 
I mean pre-eminently Lytton Strachey, Saxon Sydney- 
Turner, Thoby Stephen, and myself. 

The hates, contempts, miseries were as violent— al- 
most as exciting— as the loves, friendships, admira- 
tions, ecstacies. We were arrogant, wrong-headed, 
awkward, oscillating between callowness and sophisti- 
cation. We were convinced that everyone over twenty- 
five, with perhaps one or two remarkable exceptions, 
was "hopeless," having lost the elan of youth, the 
capacity to feel, and the ability to distinguish truth 
from falsehood. We were not angry young men in 
any sense; that psychology of a much later age was 
alien to ours. Intellectually we were terribly insolent, 
being contemptuous of, not angry with, authority 

Cambridge • 775 

and stupidity, so that no doubt to those whom we did 
not like or who did not like us we must have been 

Here I must again recall the fact, briefly men- 
tioned already, that this period of our early man- 
hood, perhaps the most impressionable years of one's 
life, was an age of revolution. We found ourselves 
living in the springtime of a conscious revolt against 
the social, political, religious, moral, intellectual, and 
artistic institutions, beliefs, and standards of our 
fathers and grandfathers. We felt ourselves to be the 
second generation in this exciting movement of men 
and ideas. The battle, which was against what for 
short one may call Victorianism, had not yet been 
won, and what was so exciting was our feeling that 
we ourselves were part of the revolution, that victory 
or defeat depended to some small extent upon what 
we did, said, or wrote. After the 1914 war, and still 
more after Hitler's war, the young who are not con- 
servatives, fascists, or communists are almost neces- 
sarily defeatist; they have grown up under the shadow 
of defeat in the past and the menace of defeat in the 
future. It is natural, inevitable that they should suf- 
fer from the sterility of being angry young men. Our 
state of mind was the exact opposite. There was no 
shadow of past defeat; the omens were all favourable. 
We were not, as we are today, fighting with our backs 
to the wall against a resurgence of barbarism and bar- 
barians. We were not part of a negative movement of 
destruction, against the past. We were out to con- 
struct something new; we were in the van of the 
builders of a new society which should be free, ra- 

I"] 6 • Sowing 

tional, civilized, pursuing truth and beauty. It was all 
tremendously exhilarating. 

And no doubt, looking back after fifty years and 
two world wars and the atomic age and Mussolini, 
Hitler, Stalin, and Russian communism, no doubt 
terribly naive. Of course we were naive. But age and 
hindsight unfairly exaggerate and distort the naivety 
of youth. Living in 1900 and seeing the present with 
no knowledge of the future, we had some grounds for 
excitement and exhilaration. The long-drawn-out, 
crucial test of society and politics in the Dreyfus case 
had not yet ended in decisive defeat for the old 
regime, but the "pardoning" of Dreyfus foreshadowed 
their final defeat and the reinstatement of Dreyfus 
six years later. And what made the Dreyfus case so 
terribly exciting, so profoundly significant, was that 
this judicial murder of an obscure Jewish army offi- 
cer, this trial and conviction of an unimportant cap- 
tain in the 21st regiment of artillery in France, be- 
came, as I said above, a struggle of Euopean and later 
almost cosmic importance. One felt that gradually 
everyone in the world had become involved in it, 
that everyone was becoming consciously implicated 
in the struggle between right and wrong, justice and 
injustice, civilization and barbarism. The court-mar- 
tial in the Cherche-Midi prison, the degradation cere- 
mony on the parade-ground with the soldiers drawn 
up in a great square and Dreyfus raising his arms 
and crying out to them: "Soldiers, I am innocent! It 
is an innocent man who is being dishonoured. Vive la 
France! Vive VArmee!," the crowd hissing and shout- 
ing: "A mort! A mort! Kill himi Kill himi," the im- 

Cambridge • lyy 

prisonment on the He du Diable— these events which 
were contemporary events of our own lifetime as- 
sumed symbolic import like the trial and death of 
Socrates and the scene in the prison at Athens— 
**Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius"— or even that 
other trial before Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem and all 
the crowd hissing and shouting: *'Let him be cruci- 
fied! His blood be on us, and on our children." 

I do not think we were wrong in feeling this tre- 
mendous significance of the Dreyfus case. It was, 
what we felt it to be, a struggle between two stand- 
ards of social and therefore of human value. Two 
world wars and millions of Dreyfuses murdered by 
Russian communists and German Nazis do not prove 
us to have been wrong; they merely show that any 
hope in 1904 that the world might become perma- 
nently civilized has not been fulfilled. One should 
perhaps recall the men and books which in those days 
of our Cambridge youth filled us with admiration, 
enthusiasm, hope, for they show the deep currents of 
revolt operating in the society of our time, and they 
reveal not only autobiographically our personal psy- 
chology, but also— what is more important— the his- 
torical psychology of an era. 

There was in Trinity an old-established Shake- 
speare Society which met, I think, weekly to read 
aloud the plays of Shakespeare. Not content with 
this, we founded a new society, the X Society, for the 
purpose of reading plays other than Shakespeare. We 
read the Elizabethans and the Restoration dramatists 
with immense pleasure, but we also read two con- 
temporaries, Ibsen and Shaw. The plays of these two 

iy8 • Sowing 

writers gave us something over and above the aes- 
thetic pleasure which we got from the poetry of The 
Duchess of Malfi, Volpone, or The Maid's Tragedy, 
or the intellectual pleasure which the wit of The 
Way of the World gave us. The poetry, the work of 
art in The Wild Duck or Hedda Gabler or The Mas- 
ter-Builder gave us and still give me profound pleas- 
ure which can rightly be distinguished as purely aes- 
thetic. The dramatic genius, the humour, and the 
verbal wit in Arms and the Alan or You Never Can 
Tell gave us and to some extent can still give me 
great intellectual pleasure. But in all these plays, and 
pre-eminently in Ibsen's, there was something else, 
something extraordinarily exciting which belonged 
to the immediate moment in which we lived and yet 
went down into the depths of our beliefs and desires 
and the great currents of history. Not only in such 
plays as The Doll's House or Ghosts, but in the 
strange symbolic words and action of The Master- 
Builder or The Wild Duck or Rosmersholm , the cob- 
webs and veils, the pretences and hypocrisies which 
suppressed the truth, buttressed cruelty, injustice, 
and stupidity, and suffocated society in the nineteenth 
century, were broken through, exposed, swept away. 
When Brack said: "Good God!— people don't do such 
things," when Hilda says: "But he mounted right to 
the top. And I heard harps in the air. My~my Mas- 
ter-Builderl," when Relling says: "Bosh!" to Mol- 
vik's: "The child is not dead but sleepeth," we felt 
that Ibsen was revealing something new in people's 
heads and hearts— in our heads and hearts— and that 
he was giving us hope of something new and true in 

Cambridge • lyp 

human relations and that he was saying "Bosh!" to 
that vast system of cant and hypocrisy which made 
lies a vested interest, the vested interest of the "estab- 
lishment," of the monarchy, aristocracy, upper classes, 
suburban bourgeoisie, the Church, the Army, the 
stock exchange. 

We did not think Bernard Shaw to be nearly as 
great a dramatist as Ibsen. He lacked the poetry, if 
that is the right word, the creative imagination, 
which makes The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, Ros- 
mersholm, John Gabriel Borkman so moving, quite 
apart from any "message" that they had for our gen- 
eration. But Shaw did have a message of tremendous 
importance to us— and to the world— in the years 1899 
to 1904. It was the same kind of message which I 
have tried to describe above as coming to us from 
Ibsen's Brack, Hilda, and Relling. I still possess a 
copy of Vol. II of Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant 
published by Grant Richard in 1901; I have written 
in it my name and date, showing that I bought it in 
November, 1902. In the preface Shaw answers his lib- 
eral critics, who had attacked him for striking "wan- 
ton blows" at idealism, religion, morality, the "cause 
of liberty" in Arms and the Man and others of his 
plays. I will quote his own words, because they state 
contemporaneously, in November, 1902, far better 
than I can today that message which made us recog- 
nize him with enthusiasm as one of our leaders in the 
revolutionary movement of our youth. 

. . . idealism, which is only a flattering name for ro- 
mance in politics and morals, is as obnoxious to me as 
romance in ethics or religion. In spite of a Liberal Revo- 

i8o • Sowing 

lution or two, I can no longer be satisfied with fictitious 
morals and fictitious good conduct, shedding fictitious 
glory on robbery, starvation, disease, crime, drink, war, 
cruelty, cupidity, and all the other commonplaces of 
civilization which drive men to the theatre to make fool- 
ish pretences that such things are progress, science, 
morals, religion, patriotism, imperial supremacy, na- 
tional greatness and all the other names the newspapers 
call them. On the other hand, I see plenty of good in the 
world working itself out as fast as the idealists will allow 
it; and if they would only let it alone and learn to respect 
reality, which would include the beneficial exercise of 
respecting themselves, and incidentally respecting me, 
we should all get along much better and faster. At all 
events, I do not see moral chaos and anarchy as the 
alternative to romantic convention; and I am not going 
to pretend I do merely to please the people who are 
convinced that the world is only held together by the force 
of unanimous, strenuous, eloquent, trumpet-tongued 

The novels which a man reads throw light upon 
his psychology and the psychology of his generation. 
Very few of the illustrious dead among English novel- 
ists meant much to us. In 1903 I read Fielding and 
Richardson rather because I thought they should 
have been read, Jane Austen and the Brontes because 
they gave me pleasure, aesthetic and intellectual. 
Thackeray and Dickens meant nothing to us, or, 
rather they stood for an era, a way of life, a system of 
morals against which we were in revolt. We were un- 
fair to them and misjudged them aesthetically, as I 
recognized when much later in life I came to read 
them again. It was the curious satire of Crotchet 

Cambridge • i8i 

Castle, so suave and yet so sharp, which struck a note 
in the past which we could appreciate as in harmony 
with our mood. Of contemporaries, the first to mean 
something to us was George Meredith. I don't think 
I ever liked him as much as the others of my genera- 
tion did, for there seemed to be something unreal 
and phoney in his artificiality. But he appealed to us 
as breaking away from the cosmic and social assump- 
tions of Thackeray and Dickens, as challenging their 
standards of morality. I am not sure now that he did, 
and today I feel that we were almost certainly also 
wrong about Henry James. I have explained already 
the immense influence which he had upon us. Up to 
a point we were right and the influence was justified, 
for the niceties and subtleties of his art and his psy- 
chology belonged to the movement of revolt. But he 
was never really upon our side in that revolt. 

There were two novelists, amazingly different from 
each other, who were very definitely upon our side 
and whom we recognized with enthusiasm, not 
merely as writers and artists, but as our leaders. The 
Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler was published in 
1903, a year after his death. We read it when it came 
out and felt at once its significance for us. The other 
was Thomas Hardy. The Return of the Native and 
The Mayor of Casterbridge seemed to us gTeat 
novels, and, though we probably overvalued them, 
we were not far wrong. But those books and, still 
more, Tess of the D'Urbevilles and Jude the Obscure 
had another importance besides the artistic. The out- 
cry against them came from those who supported 
what we thought the most degraded and hypocritical 

i82 • Sowing 

elements in Victorianism. Tess of the D'Urbevilles 
was published in 1891, and in the preface to the new 
edition of 1895 Hardy himself dealt with these 
critics. He pointed out that "a novel is an impression, 
not an argument," and he was not arguing a case in 
Tess. Some of those who objected to his novel were 
'genteel persons . . . not able to endure something 
or other" in the book. Some were "austere" persons 
who considered that certain subjects are not fit for 
art; some objected to a woman who had an illegiti- 
mate child being made the heroine of a respectable 
novel and, still more, to her being rather provoca- 
tively labelled by Hardy in his subtitle a "pure 
woman." Looking back over half a century to this, in 
these spacious days when solemn judges give solemn 
judgments that Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover 
are not indecent and can be read innocuously by 
babes and sucklings as well as by pornographic 
elderly gentlemen, it is almost impossible to believe 
that in 1900 Tess was widely condemned as an im- 
moral book. Tess and Hardy were themselves a cause 
of the change, just as were Ibsen and Shaw, and that 
was why we, who felt ourselves to be so much in- 
volved in this struggle of ideas and ideals, regarded 
all three of them as in a sense our leaders. 

There is another name which I must add to these 
three, and I am afraid that I will appear ridiculous to 
practically everyone of later generations by admitting 
it. For it is Algernon Charles Swinburne. Late at 
night in the May term, I like to remember, Lytton, 
Saxon, Thoby Stephen, Clive Bell, and I would some- 
times walk through the Cloisters of Neville's Court 

Cambridge • i8^ 

in Trinity and, looking out through the bars at the 
end on to the willows and water of the Backs, ghostly 
in the moonlight, listen to the soaring song of in- 
numerable nightingales. And sometimes as we walked 
back through the majestic Cloisters we chanted 
poetry. More often than not it would be Swinburne. 

"From too much love of living, 

From hope and fear set free. 
We thank with brief thanksgiving 

Whatever gods may be 
That no life lives for ever; 
That dead men rise up never; 
That even the weariest river 

Winds somewhere safe to sea." 

"We shift and bedeck and bedrape us, 
Thou art noble and nude and antique." 

"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world 

has grown grey from thy breath; 
We have drunk of things Lethean, and fed on the 

fulness of death." 

It all sounds, no doubt, silly and sentimental and, 
what so many people think even more deplorable, so 
terribly out of date. Of course we were silly and senti- 
mental at the age of twenty, and I do not think there 
is anything admirable in this kind of crudity and 
naivety of the young. Yet the unfledged foolishness is 
partly due— and was in our case due— to the enthusi- 
asm, the passion with which one sees and hears and 
thinks and feels when everything in the world and in 
other people and in oneself is fresh and new to one. 
This passion is, I think, admirable and desirable, and 

iS^ • Sowing 

that is one reason why it irritates us when age and 
experience, bringing disappointment and boredom, 
have blurred our sensations, dimmed our beliefs, and 
castrated our desires. 

As to the out-o£-dateness of Swinburne and Dolores 
and The Garden of Proserpine, and, so, of the young 
men and the nightingales, I am not much concerned 
or troubled by it. I have always thought that to make 
a fuss or a song about being up-to-date is the sign of 
a weak mind or of intellectual cold feet or cold heart. 
Every out-of-date writer of any importance was once 
modern, and the most modern of writers will some 
day, and pretty rapidly, become out-of-date. For us in 
1902 Tennyson was out-of-date and we therefore un- 
derestimated his poetry; today another fifty years has 
evaporated much of his datedness, and his stature as a 
poet becomes more visible. I daresay that we overesti- 
mated Swinburne's poetry,* but I have no doubt that 
it is generally underestimated today. If I wanted to 
chant a poem to nightingales singing at midnight and 
in moonlight, I might still choose The Garden of Pros- 
erpine or some other poem of Swinburne's and I am 
sure that it would stand up to the ordeal as well as 
any song the Sirens have sung. That is no mean or 
common achievement and would show that there is 
some poetry in the poem. 

Swinburne was something of a legend and symbol 

* But not very much, for we retained a certain sense of criticism. 
We used, as a kind of parlour game, to draw up a Tripos List of all 
the world's writers of all ages. I still possess one of these Lists com- 
piled by us in 1902. Swinburne is placed in Class I, Division 3, be- 
low Browning, who is placed in Class I, Division 2. But we never 
chanted Browning at midnight to the nightingales. 

Cambridge • i8^ 

to us in the early i goo's. Immured for the last thirty 
years of his life by Theodore Watts-Dunton in the 
grim bourgeois "residence," The Pines, at the bot- 
tom of Putney Hill, "his life was 'sheltered' like that 
of a child," as his biographer. Sir Edmund Gosse, 
wrote, "and he was able to concentrate his faculties 
upon literature and his dreams without a shadow of 
disturbance." His poetry is a kind of distilled lyri- 
cism, and in this bears some resemblance to Greek 
lyric poetry, to Pindar and the choruses in Sophocles 
and Aristophanes, in which sense and sound become 
one and well up in song. And physically his tiny 
body, "light with the lightness of thistledown," 
seemed to be the perfect ethereal envelope for the 
lyricist. Living in Putney from 1894 and during my 
Cambridge years, I had a gleam of reflected glory 
from the poet. Nearly every morning he walked up 
Putney Hill and over Wimbledon Common, and oc- 
casionally I saw him doing this. And once when I was 
having my hair cut in a shop near Putney station, the 
door opened and everyone, including the man cut- 
ting my hair, turned and looked at the tiny, fragile- 
looking figure in a cloak and large hat standing in 
the doorway. I remember very vividly the fluttering 
of the hands and fear and misery in the eyes. No one 
said anything, and after a moment the little figure 
went out and shut the door. "That," said the barber, 
"is Mr. Swinburne." I have one other memory. Our 
doctor at Putney was a Dr. White, who had played 
rugger at half-back for England. He was also \Vatts- 
Dunton's, and therefore Swinburne's, doctor. He told 
me that he was sometimes summoned by Watts-Dun- 

i86 • Sowing 

ton to see the poet. The interview took place in the 
dining-room in Watts-Dunton's presence. Swinburne 
sat at a long table and could rarely be induced to say 
anything, but all the time his little hands played an 
inaudible tune on the dining-table as though upon a 
piano. Watts-Dunton, a rather sinister figure, one 
often saw in Putney. When I took my dog for a walk, 
I would sometimes meet him in Putney Park Lane, 
then a very rural lane, arm-in-arm with a beautiful 
young lady, with whom we had a distant acquaint- 
ance, the enormous-eyed, almost Pre-Raphaelite-look- 
ing Clare Reich. 

To return to Trinity, I have never been what is 
called "a good mixer," but I have always felt great 
interest in and often liking for all kinds of different 
persons. At Trinity, I had two quite distinct circles of 
intimate friends. One, which I have so far been deal- 
ing with and describing, consisted of intellectuals 
and scholars with Lytton Strachey, Saxon Sydney- 
Turner, Thoby Stephen, Maynard Keynes, and G. E. 
Moore at the centre, and at varying distances from 
the centre Clive Bell, J. T. Sheppard, R. G. Hawtrey, 
and A. R. Ainsworth. Two other persons moved er- 
ratically in and out of this solar system of intellectual 
friendship, like comets, Morgan Forster (E. M. Fors- 
ter) and Desmond MacCarthy. They were both older 
than I, Morgan by two years and Desmond by three. 
Later in life when I returned from Ceylon in 1911 
and lived in London, I became much more intimate 
with them, and I shall have more to say about them 
when I get to that period of my life. Morgan, I sup- 
pose, was still up at King's when I first knew him, 

Cambridge • iSy 

though not in my last two years. We did not see very 
much of him, but he was a fascinating character and 
what I knew of him I liked immensely. He was 
strange, elusive, evasive. You could be talking to him 
easily and intimately one moment, and suddenly he 
would seem to withdraw into himself; though he still 
was physically there, you had faded out of his mental 
vision, and so with a pang you found that he had 
faded out of yours. He was already beginning to 
write his early Pan-ridden short stories and A Room 
with a View. You always felt in him and his conver- 
sation the subtlety and sensibility together with the 
streak of queer humour which you always also feel 
in his books. Lytton nicknamed him the Taupe, 
partly because of his faint physical resemblance to a 
mole, but principally because he seemed intellectu- 
ally and emotionally to travel unseen underground 
and every now and again pop up unexpectedly with 
some subtle observation or delicate quip which some- 
how or other he had found in the depths of the earth 
or of his own soul. His strange character and our 
early relationship are shown, I think, in the follow- 
ing letter which he wrote to me just before I left 
England for Ceylon in 1911: 

Harnham, Monument Green, 
Dear Woolf 

I nearly was at Cambridge yesterday, but it didn't come 
off. I don't think, though, that I really wanted to see you 

This letter is only to wish you godspeed in our Ian- 

1 88 • Sowing 

guage, and to say that if you ever want anything or any- 
thing done in England will you let me know. It's worth 
making this vague offer, because I'm likely always to have 
more time on my hands than anybody else. 

I shall write at the end of the year. I know you much 
less than I like you, which makes your going the worse 
for me. 

Yours ever 
E. M. Forster. 

In 1905 Morgan sent me an inscribed copy of Where 
Angels Fear to Tread; he had crossed out the title and 
written above it "Monterians." 

Desmond MacCarthy had already gone down when 
I came up to Trinity in 1899, but in my last years I 
got to know him quite well as he was a great friend of 
Moore's and used fairly often to come up and stay 
with him. Desmond in youth was, I think, perhaps 
the most charming man that I have ever known. His 
charm was so much a part of his living person, the 
tone of his voice, the turn of his sentence, the toler- 
ant or affectionate smile, the wrinkled forehead, the 
sagacious eye with the humorous gleam in it, which 
reminded me, even when he was young, of the eye of 
a knowing old dog who understands and appreciates 
all his master's jokes and can make just as good jokes 
himself, that sixty years later it is, alas, hopeless to try 
to convey even a shadow of it to anyone who did not 
know him. The first time I met him was one weekend 
when he came up to stay with Moore. He had just re- 
turned from a kind of old-fashioned Grand Tour of 
Europe and he gave us immensely long descriptions 
of his journeys, particularly in Greece and Turkey. 

Cambridge • i8p 

Such pyrotechnic displays or set pieces are usually 
the most boring type of conversation, but one could 
listen enchanted by Desmond as a raconteur until 
one was tired out, not by him, but by pleasure and 
laughter. He was one of those rare intellectuals who 
can talk to anyone in any place or "walk of life" and 
to whom everyone can talk easily and affectionately. 
If you went into a tobacconist's to buy a packet of 
cigarettes with him, it would almost certainly be ten 
minutes before you came out accompanied to the 
door by everyone in the shop laughing and talking 
with him up to the last possible minute. He seemed 
to me, and to many others of his friends, in those days 
to have the world at his feet. He had wit, humour, 
intelligence, imagination, a remarkable gift of words, 
an extraordinary power of describing a character, an 
incident, or a scene. Surely, one thought, here is in 
the making a writer, a novelist of the highest quality. 
As a human being he remained the same to the end, 
but as a writer he never achieved anything at all of 
what he promised. This is not the place to explore 
the reasons for his failure, interesting though they 
are, for they belong to a later period of his life and 
mine, and will therefore be discussed more appro- 
priately when I come to the account of my and of his 
middle age. In my Cambridge days I remember him 
only as someone upon whom the good fairies ap- 
peared to have lavished ever possible gift both of 
body and of mind. For he was very strong and ath- 
letic. He used to play fives with Moore and me and, 
though I was not a bad player, he was very much 

/po • Sowing 

better, playing a tremendously fast game and hitting 
with great power. 

So much for the circle of my friends who were 
scholars, dons, "intellectuals." But I moved in a sec- 
ond circle which was almost the exact opposite of 
this. It was essentially heterogeneous. The kernel of 
it, so far as I was concerned, consisted of three men, 
each almost completely different from the others: 
Harry Gray, who had been at St. Paul's, Alan Rokeby 
Law, who had been at Wellington, and Leopold 
Colin Henry Douglas Campbell, who had been at 
Eton. My friendship with them, which outlasted 
Cambridge, began through Gray. At St. Paul's I kne^v 
him only by sight, for he was on the science side. 
Somehow or other our paths crossed at Trinity and I 
went to see him, and it was in his rooms that I met 
Law and Campbell, with whom he had become inti- 
mate. Gray was tall, very thin, and graceful, with ex- 
traordinarily neat, long hands; his head was very 
small and all his features small; his face was abso- 
lutely without any colour in it except a faint tinge of 
yellow. Though he was intelligent and very likable, 
his character in most ways was as colourless as his 
face. What attracted me in him was that, although 
lively and affectionate and interested, he seemed de- 
void of anything approaching passion. He was ab- 
sorbed in two things, but with an almost impersonal 
absorption, medicine and music. He was taking the 
Science Tripos and in later life became a first-class 
surgeon. He was already, as an executant, a first-class 
pianist. His playing was brilliant, but singularly im- 
personal and emotionless, and, when he was not 

Cambridge • ipi 

working, he would usually be found playing the 
piano. It was characteristic of him that he was usually 
playing Chopin, and I used to listen with consider- 
able pleasure and even excitement to the cold and 
limpid fountains of rhythm and melody which he 
made Chopin and the piano produce. I liked Gray 
and he liked me, but in a curiously impersonal way. 
Years afterwards, when I came back from Ceylon and 
he had become a distinguished surgeon, he asked me 
whether I would like to come and see him perform 
an operation. I have always thought that one should 
never refuse an experience, so I went to see him take 
a large growth out of an elderly man's inside. The 
operation astonished me: it lasted for a very long 
time, and for much of it Gray used only his hands in 
the man's inside, exerting considerable force. Watch- 
ing his hands, I was continually reminded by their 
movements of the way in which he used to play 

Law was a tiny little man with the palest of straw- 
coloured hair. At the age of twenty he had the face of 
a rather puzzled old man, and I think that he must 
have looked much the same at the age of two or even 
at birth. He and his clothes were wonderfully dapper 
and he was so tidy that nothing in his rooms might 
be moved an eighth of an inch from the place ap- 
pointed for it by him within the room and the uni- 
verse. He was very affectionate and loyal, so that 
among his friends all his geese were swans. As he 
was both conventional and respectable, he would 
naturally have thought me a blasphemous and preda- 
tory goose; he turned me into a swan by seeing that. 

ic)2 • Sowing 

though brainy and queer, I was a good fellow. I went 
and stayed with him in his home in Ripley and was 
fascinated by a glimpse into a stratum of society into 
which I had never penetrated. He lived, an only 
child, with his parents in a small country house and 
garden typical of the Surrey of those days. His par- 
ents were typical too; conservative, conventional, com- 
monplace, they belonged to a not unimportant part 
of the middle-class backbone of nineteenth-century 
England. Their intense respectability was strongly 
tinged with snobbery towards both those above and 
those below them in the social scale. They had not 
too much and not too little of everything, including 
wealth and brains. I cannot remember what Mr. Law 
was or had been, but the family climate was that of 
the Church and Army, not usually soaring above the 
rank of an Arch-deacon or Colonel, though Mrs. Law 
had a cousin who was a General and had survived the 
Boer War without the discredit earned by most of the 
British commanders in South Africa. They must have 
produced Rokeby rather late in their life; he was not 
merely the centre of their universe, he was their uni- 
verse. Their universe was in no sense mine; our 
standards of value were in most thinos antaoonistic; I 
had no sympathy for the stufRness of their postulates, 
beliefs, ideals. Yet beneath the carapace which class, 
religion, and public school had formed over their 
brains and souls, there was something in them and in 
Rokeby that I liked and found interesting, perhaps 
because it was so different from anything under my 
carapace. I made them rather uneasy, but they ac- 
cepted me as a friend of Rokeby. He died quite 

Cambridge • ip^ 

young, a few years after he went down from Trinity, 
and with his death their universe collapsed. They 
sent me a copy of a biographical memoir of him 
which they had privately printed. 

Leopold Colin Henry Douglas Campbell, who later 
in life became Leopold Colin Henry Douglas Camp- 
bell-Douglas and, still later. Lord Blythswood, be- 
longed again to a class completely different from that 
of Law. He was a Scottish aristocrat, tracing his de- 
scent from Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow in the 
fourteenth century, Colin Campbell of Blythswood 
in the seventeenth century, and the Douglases of 
Douglas-Support in the eighteenth century. His an- 
cestors were a long line of soldiers; his uncle, the first 
Lord Blythswood, his father, and one of his brothers 
were all colonels of the Scots Guards. The aristocratic 
class and way of life to which Leopold Campbell be- 
longed could scarcely have been more different from 
or more antagonistic to mine, but I have always en- 
joyed plunging, with a shudder and shiver, into a 
strange and alien society of people, as into an icy sea. 
To aristocratic societies I know that I am ambivalent, 
disliking and despising them and at the same time 
envying them their insolent urbanity, which has 
never been more perfectly described than in Madame 
Bovary. Here is Flaubert's description of the old and 
young men whom Emma met when she was invited 
to stay with the Marquis d'Andervilliers— so like the 
old and young men whom I met at lunch in the 
Campbells' house in Manchester Square in 1903: 

Leurs habits, mieux faits, semblaient d'un drap plus 
souple, et leurs cheveux, ramenes en boucles vers les 

1^4 ' Sowing 

tempes, lustres par des pommades plus fines. lis avaient 
le teint de la richesse, ce teint blanc que rehaussent la 
pdleur des porcelaines, les moires de satin, le vernis des 
beaux meuhles, et qu'entretient dans sa sante un regime 
discret de nourritures exquises . . . Ceux qui commen- 
caient a vieillir avaient I'air jeune, tandis que quelque 
chose de mur s'etendait sur le visage des jeunes. Dans 
leurs regards indifferents flottait la quietude de passions 
journellement assouvies; et, a travers leurs manieres 
douces, percait cette brutalite particuliere que com- 
munique la domination de choses a demi faciles, dans 
lesquelles la force s'exerce et ou la vanite s'amuse, le 
maniement des chevaux de race et la societe des femmes 

Leopold's father was a General who had just got 
through the Boer War without either credit or dis- 
credit; he looked like and was essentially a General 
who had been Colonel of the Scots Guards. Leopold 
was in many ways true to type, but in some ways a 
mutation or sport. He talked of huntin', shootin', 
and ridin', and even in later life frequented '7a 
societe des femmes perdues," but at Eton he suddenly 
became virulently infected with religion and deter- 
mined to become a High Church parson. There must 
have been a gene in the family producing embryos 
with a tendency to become clergymen rather than 
colonels, because Leopold's uncle, the second Lord 
Blythswood, went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, 
and took orders. My experience is that almost every- 
one, if you really get to know him, is a "curious 
character," and Leopold was no exception. I liked 
him and he liked me, although— or perhaps to some 
extent because— we had so very little in common. He 

Cambridge • 7^5 

had many of the infuriating prejudices and affections 
of his class and caste, but he was affectionate and, 
what is rare, a man of real good will. He had a singu- 
larly open mind in some directions and an apprecia- 
tion of people; though my mother was in almost 
every way different from the ladies whom he knew, 
when he got to know my family, he became very fond 
of her and she of him. What attracted me in him was 
the spontaneous gaiety and benevolence in his nature 
and an unusual mental curiosity. At Cambridge he 
was preparing to take Holy Orders and in due course 
he became a High Church parson. Why exactly he 
went through this exacting process and lived the 
whole of his life as curate, vicar, or rector of parishes 
in towns or villages, I never really understood. His 
religion puzzled me though he never hesitated to talk 
quite freely to me about it. At a certain psychological 
level it was perfectly genuine, but the level was only 
just below the surface of his mind or soul. He took a 
kind of aesthetic pleasure in the paraphernalia of 
High Church services, the incense and genuflexions 
and all the rest of it, or perhaps it is truer to say that 
the Church was to him exactly what the Scots Guards 
were to his father, his uncle, and his brother. At any 
deeper level, religion and Christianity seemed to 
mean nothing, to have no relevance for him. I feel 
sure that, if he and I had been walking doun Picca- 
dilly and had suddenly come face to face with Jesus 
Christ, I should have recognized him instantly, but 
Leopold, if he noticed him at all, would have dis- 
missed him as merely another queer-looking person. 
My friendship with Leopold Campbell caused one 

1^6 • Sowing 

curious incident. There was an undergraduate at 
Trinity of our year whom I will call X and w horn we 
both knew and rather liked. He was a slightly dim 
person, and I was astonished and outraged to hear 
from more than one acquaintance that he was going 
about saying that I "sponged on Campbell." I was 
not yet, at the age of twenty, steeled to expect and 
ignore the malignancy of men or the spurns that pa- 
tient merit from the unworthy take, and I went 
round to the rooms of X on the first floor of a house 
on King's Parade terribly hurt and terribly angry. 
There followed a scene of violent emotion in which I 
exacted a grudging apology and I left the room in 
such a rage that I fell down the stairs from the first to 
the ground floor. 

I had to keep the Gray-Law-Campbell circle as far 
apart as possible from the circle of my intellectual 
friends, as they were mutually suspicious and antag- 
onistic. By the time I left Cambridge I had become 
very intimate with Thoby Stephen and Lytton Stra- 
chey and knew their families, and so the foimdations 
of what became known as Bloomsbury were laid. 
Thoby's family seemed to a young man like me for- 
midable and even alarming. When his father. Sir 
Leslie Stephen, came up to stay a weekend with him, 
Lytton and I were had in to meet him. He was one 
of those bearded and beautiful Victorian old gentle- 
men of exquisite gentility and physical and mental 
distinction on whose face the sorrows of all the world 
had traced the indelible lines of suffering nobility. 
He was immensely distinguished as a historian of 
ideas, literary critic, biographer, and the first editor 

Cambridge • ipy 

of the Dictionary of National Biography. In each of 
these departments the distinction was not undeserved; 
his History of English Thought in the Eighteenth 
Century seventy-six years after it was published, ac- 
cording to Mr. Noel Annan, Provost of King's Col- 
lege, Cambridge, and a very professional, a very mod- 
ern, and a very exacting critic, in his book Leslie 
Stephen, His Thought and Character in Relation to 
His Time, "still stands as a major contribution to 
scholarship and in a sense will never be superseded in 
its scope." Maynard Keynes, another expert and se- 
vere critic, also thought highly of this book. vStephen's 
literary criticism in Hours in a Library and his biog- 
raphies, deeply etched by his personal prejudices and 
the conventional ethics of respectable Victorians, are 
of remarkable quality and are still readable and read. 
When I found myself, a nervous undergraduate, sit- 
ting opposite to this very tall and distinguished old 
gentleman in Thoby's rooms in Trinity Great Court 
and expected to make conversation with him— not 
helped in any way by Thoby— it seemed to me, as I 
said, formidable and alarming. What added enor- 
mously to the alarm was that he was stone deaf and 
that one had to sit quite near to him and shout every- 
thing one said to him down an ear-trumpet. It is re- 
markable and humiliating to discover how imbecile a 
not very imaginative, or even an imaginative, remark 
can sound when one shouts it down an ear-trumpet 
into the ear of a bearded old gentleman, six foot 
three inches tall, sitting very upright in a chair and 
looking as if every word you said only added to his 
already unendurable sorrows. However, it must be 

ic}8 ' Sowing 

said that this awkwardness and terror were gradually 
dissipated by him. He had immense charm and he 
obviously liked to meet the young and Thoby's 
friends. Unlike Henry James, he could see through 
our awkwardness and even grubbiness to our intelli- 
gence, and was pleased by our respect and apprecia- 
tion. In the end we were all talking and laughing 
naturally (so far as this is possible down an ear- 
trumpet) and enjoying one another's company. This 
must have been about three years before Leslie Ste- 
phen died. 

The basis of Mr. Ramsey's character in To the 
Lighthouse was, no doubt, taken by Virginia from 
her father's character; it is, I think, successfully sub- 
limated by the novelist and is not the photograph of 
a real person stuck into a work of fiction; it is inte- 
grated into a work of art. But there are points about 
it which are both artistically and psychologically of 
some interest. Having known Leslie Stephen in the 
flesh and having heard an enormous deal about him 
from his children, I feel pretty sure that, subject to 
what I have said above about the artistic sublimation, 
Mr. Ramsey is a pretty good fictional portrait of Les- 
lie Stephen— and yet there are traces of unfairness to 
Stephen in Ramsey. Leslie Stephen must have been 
in many ways an exasperating man within the family, 
and he exasperated his daughters, particularly Va- 
nessa. But I think that they exaggerated his exacting- 
ness and sentimentality and, in memory, were habitu- 
ally rather unfair to him owing to a complicated 
variety of the Oedipus complex. It is interesting to 

Cambridge • ipp 

observe a faint streak o£ this in the drawing and han- 
dling of Mr. Ramsey. 

I also met Thoby's two sisters, Vanessa and Vir- 
ginia Stephen, when they came up to see him. The 
young ladies— Vanessa was twenty-one or twenty-two, 
Virginia eighteen or nineteen— were just as formi- 
dable and alarming as their father, perhaps even more 
so. I first saw them one summer afternoon in Thoby's 
rooms; in white dresses and large hats, with parasols 
in their hands. Their beauty literally took one's 
breath away, for suddenly seeing them one stopped 
astonished and everything including one's breathing 
for one second also stopped, as it does when in a pic- 
ture gallery you suddenly come face to face with a 
great Rembrandt or Velasquez or in Sicily rounding 
a bend in the road you see across the fields the lovely 
temple of Segesta. They were at that time, at least 
upon the surface, the most Victorian of Victorian 
young ladies, and today what that meant it is almost 
impossible to believe or even remember. Sitting with 
them in their brother's room was their cousin Miss 
Katherine Stephen, Principal of Newnham, with 
whom they were staying. But Miss Stephen was in her 
cousin's room for a tea-party, not in her capacity of 
cousin, but in her capacity of chaperone, for in igoi 
a respectable female sister was not allowed to see her 
male brother in his rooms in a male college except 
in the presence of a chaperone. I liked Miss Stephen 
very much, but it could not be denied that she was a 
distinguished, formidable, and rather alarming chap- 
erone. All male Stephens— and many of the females— 
whom I have known have had one marked character- 

200 • Sowing 

istic which I always think of as Stephenesque, and 
one can trace it in stories about or the writings of 
Stephens of a past generation whom one never knew, 
like the judge, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, and the 
two James Stephens of still earlier generations. It 
consisted in a way of thinking and even more in a 
way of expressing their thoughts which one associates 
pre-eminently with Dr. Johnson. There was something 
monolithic about them and their opinions, and some- 
thing marmoreal or lapidary about their way of ex- 
pressing those opinions, reminding one of the Ten 
Commandments engraved upon the tables of stone, 
even when they were only telling you that in their 
opinion it would rain tomorrow. And what was even 
more characteristic and Stephenesque was that usu- 
ally over this monolithic thought and these mono- 
lithic pronouncements there played— if one dare use 
the word of these rather elephantine activities— a pe- 
culiar monolithic humour. 

The Principal of Newnham had a liberal measure 
of this Stephen method of thinking and talking and it 
was not calculated to put at his ease a nervous young 
man who met her for the first time. Thoby, a most 
monolithic Stephen— his affectionate nickname, The 
Goth, fitted his great stature and monumental mind 
—was himself a little shy and quite incompetent to 
deal with a slightly sticky social situation. In such a 
situation he was inclined to sit silent, smiling toler- 
antly and deprecatingly. Vanessa and Virginia were 
also very silent and to any superficial observer they 
might have seemed demure. Anyone who has ridden 
many different kinds of horses knows the horse who, 

Cambridge • 201 

when you go up to him for the first time, has superfi- 
cially the most quiet and demure appearance, but, if 
after bitter experience you are accustomed to take 
something more than a superficial glance at a strange 
mount, you observe at the back of the eye of this 
quiet beast a look which warns you to be very, very 
careful. So too the observant observer would have 
noticed at the back of the two Miss Stephens' eyes a 
look which would have warned him to be cautious, a 
look which belied the demureness, a look of great in- 
telligence, hypercritical, sarcastic, satirical. 

In the Stephen family there was a vein of good 
looks, particularly noticeable in the males. There was 
something very fine in Leslie Stephen's face, and his 
nephew Jim (the famous "J. K."), the son of James 
Fitzjames, must have been a handsome man. The 
mother of Vanessa and Virginia was born Julia Jack- 
son; when Leslie Stephen married her, she was the 
widow of Herbert Duckworth. Julia Jackson's mother 
was one of the six Pattle sisters, whose great beauty 
was legendary. The Pattle genes which caused this 
beauty must have been extremely potent, for there is 
no doubt that it was handed on to a considerable 
number of descendants. It had some very marked in- 
dividual characteristics— for instance, the shape and 
modelling of the neck, face, and forehead, and the 
mouth and eyes— which were and are traceable in the 
third and fourth generation. It was essentially female 
for, though it has certainly produced many lovely 
women, I cannot see any trace of it in the male de- 
scendants of the Patties whom I have known. Julia 
Jackson inherited a full measure of the Pattle beauty. 

202 • Sowing 

as one can see in the famous photographs by her fa- 
mous aunt, Mrs. Cameron, herself one of the six 
Pattle sisters. All this is not irrelevant to my story. 
No one could deny that the Pattle sisters and their 
female descendants in the next generation were ex- 
traordinarily beautiful, but it was a beauty which 
was or tended to become rather insipid. It was, I 
think, too feminine, and not sufficiently female, and 
there was about it something which was even slightly 
irritating. Vanessa and Virginia had inherited this 
beauty, but it had been modified, strengthened, and, 
I think, greatly improved by the more masculine 
Stephen good looks. When I first met them, they 
were young women of astonishing beauty, but there 
was in them nothing of the saintly dying-duck loveli- 
ness which was characteristic of some of their feminine 
ancestors. They were eminently Stephen as well as 
Pattle. It was almost impossible for a man not to fall 
in love with them, and I think that I did at once. It 
must, however, be admitted that at that time they 
seemed to be so formidably aloof and reserved that it 
was rather like falling in love with Rembrandt's pic- 
ture of his wife, Velasquez's picture of an Infanta, or 
the lovely temple of Segesta. 

While I was at Cambridge, I got to know Lytton 
Strachey's family a good deal better than I did Thoby 
Stephen's. The Strachey and Stephen families both 
belonged to a social class or caste of a remarkable and 
peculiar kind which established itself as a powerful 
section of the ruling class in Britain in the nine- 
teenth century. It was an intellectual aristocracy of 
the middle class, the nearest equivalent in other coun- 

Cambridge • 203 

tries being the French eighteenth-century noblesse de 
robe. The male members of the British aristocracy of 
intellect went automatically to the best public schools, 
to Oxford and Cambridge, and then into all the most 
powerful and respectable professions. They intermar- 
ried to a considerable extent, and family influence 
and the high level of their individual intelligence 
carried a surprising number of them to the top of 
their professions. You found them as civil servants 
sitting in the seat of permanent under-secretaries of 
Government departments; they became generals, ad- 
mirals, editors, judges, or they retired with a K. C.S.I, 
or K.C.M.G. after distinguished careers in the Indian 
or Colonial Civil Services. Others again got fellow- 
ships at Oxford or Cambridge and ended as Head of 
an Oxford or Cambridge college or headmaster of 
one of the great public schools. 

Stephens and Stracheys were eminent examples of 
this social development, and, when I got to know 
them well, I was both interested and amused by the 
great difference in outlook and postulates of their 
circle from many of those in the circle from which I 
came. The Strachey family, as I said, belonged to ex- 
actly the same class as the Stephens, but, o^ving I sup- 
pose to its individual genes, it was in many ways 
extraordinarily different. When I first kne^v Lytton, 
they lived in a very large house in Lancaster Gate. I 
used sometimes to call formally on his mother, Lady 
Strachey, on Sunday afternoons, according to the 
strange custom of those prehistoric times, and some- 
times I was asked to remain to Sunday supper. Lyt- 
ton's sister Pippa, who was the most energetic and 

2o^ • Sowing 

charming of women and remains so today, ageless in 
the eighties, decided that we must all be taught by 
her to dance Highland dances, and I went to one or 
two evening parties at which about t^v^enty young 
people, including the Misses Stephen, practised this 
difficult art under the lively and exacting tuition of 

I stayed with Lytton three years running in the 
summer in large country houses which his parents 
rented, once in Surrey, once in Essex, and once near 
Bedford. In this way I got to know his father and 
mother and all his brothers and sisters. They stand 
out in my memory as much the most remarkable 
family I have ever known, an extinct social phenome- 
non which has passed away and will never be known 
again. Lytton's father was Lieutenant-General Sir 
Richard Strachey, who, like his two brothers, had had 
an extraordinarily brilliant career in India. He was a 
remarkable product of his caste in nineteenth-century 
Britain, a man of immense ability whether in action 
or intellectually, for he attained eminence as an army 
officer, an administrator, an engineer, and a scientist. 
When I knew him he must have been eighty-five 
years old, a little man with a very beautiful head, sit- 
ting all day long, summer and winter, in a great arm- 
chair in front of a blazing fire, reading a novel. He 
was always surrounded by a terrific din which, as I 
shall explain, was created by his sons and daughters, 
but he sat through it completely unmoved, occasion- 
ally smiling affectionately at it and them, when it 
obtruded itself unavoidably upon his notice, for in- 
stance, if in some deafening argument one side or the 

Cambridge • 20^ 

other appealed to him for a decision. He was usually 
a silent man, who listened with interest and amuse- 
ment to the verbal hurricane around him; he was 
extraordinarily friendly and charming to an awkward 
youth such as I was, and he was fascinating when now 
and again he was induced to enter the discussion or 
recall something from his past. 

Lytton's mother, like his father, came from a dis- 
tinguished Anglo-Indian family, being the daughter 
of Sir John Grant. She was a large, tall, rather un- 
gainly woman who often appeared to be completely 
detached from the world around her. She would walk 
into a room in a kind of dream-like way, gaze uncer- 
tainly about her and then walk out again. I used to 
think that she had come in to try to find something 
which she had forgotten and then, when she was in 
the room, forgot what it was she had forgotten. She 
would often sit at the head of the Strachey table ap- 
parently unconscious of her children's babel of argu- 
ment, indignation, excitement, laughter. This absent- 
mindedness or distraction was, however, rather de- 
ceptive. She was, in fact, tremendously on the spot 
whenever she gave her attention to anything. She was 
passionately intellectual, with that curiosity of mind 
which the Greeks rightly thought so important. She 
had a passion for literature, argument, and billiards. 
I was very fond of her and got on well with her, and 
she liked me, I think. The houses which they took 
for the summer in the country were necessarily large 
and always had a billiard-table, and I played many 
games of billiards with her. She was a magnificent 
reader of poetry and in the evenings she would read 

2o6 ' Sowing 

aloud to Lytton and me for hours. The last time that 
Virginia and I saw her was when she was old and 
blind, sitting one summer evening under a tree in 
Gordon Square. We went and sat down by her, and 
somehow or other we got on the subject of Milton's 
LycidaSj which at St. Paul's we had to learn by heart. 
She recited the whole of it to us superbly without 
hesitating over a word. The beauty of the London 
evening in the London square, the beauty of the 
poem of that old blind Londoner who sat on summer 
evenings three hundred years before in Lincoln's Inn 
Fields composing Paradise Lost, the beauty of Lady 
Strachey's voice remain one of the last gentle mem- 
ories of a London and an era which vanished in the 
Second Great War. 

In 1902 the Strachey family consisted of five sons 
and five daughters, female and male alternating 
down the family thus: Elinor (Mrs. Rendel); Dick, in 
the Indian Army; Dorothy (later Madame Simon 
Bussy); Ralph, married, in the East Indian Railway; 
Pippa, later secretary of the Fawcett Society; Oliver, 
married, in the East Indian Railway; Pernel, later 
Principal of Newnham; Lytton; Marjorie; James. 
Their ages ranged from Elinor's forty-two years to 
James's fifteen; their father, Sir Richard, had been 
born in the reign of George III two years after 
Waterloo, and their grandfather, Edward Strachey, 
far, far back in 1774. These years and dates are not 
irrelevant to a description and understanding of Lyt- 
ton and his family. I felt that whereas I was living in 
1902, they were living in 1774-1902. At dinner some- 
one might casually say something which implied that 

Cambridge • 2oy 

he remembered George IV (which he might) or even 
Voltaire or Warren Hastings, and certainly to Lytton 
the eighteenth century was more congenial and, in a 
sense, more real than the nineteenth or the twen- 
tieth. The atmosphere of the dining-room at Lancas- 
ter Gate was that of British history and of that com- 
paratively small ruling middle class which for the last 
one hundred years had been the principal makers of 
British history. 

At supper on Sunday evenings in Lancaster Gate 
or, still more, in the country houses in the summer 
the number of Stracheys present was to a visitor at 
first bewildering. In London the family consisted of 
Sir Richard, Lady Strachey, Dorothy, Pippa, Lytton, 
Marjorie, James, and Duncan Grant, Lady Strachey's 
nephew. In the country there was always a large in- 
flux of the married sons and daughters, with wives, 
husbands, and children. The level of intelligence in 
each son and daughter and in the father and mother 
was incredibly, fantastically high. They were all, like 
their mother, passionately intellectual, most of them 
with very quick minds and lively imaginations. All 
of them, I suspect, except the two eldest, must have 
been born with pens in their hands and perhaps spec- 
tacles on their noses. Their chief recreation was con- 
versation and they adored conversational speculation 
which usually led to argument. They were all argu- 
mentatively very excitable and they all had in vary- 
ing degrees what came to be known as the Strachey 
voice. I have said somethino about it in describing: 
Lytton. It had a tremendous range from deep tones 
to high-pitched falsetto. When six or seven Stracheys 

2o8 • Sowing 

became involved in an argument over the dinner 
table, as almost always happened, the roar and 
rumble, the shrill shrieks, the bursts of laughter, the 
sound and fury of excitement was deafening and to 
an unprepared stranger paralysing. And these verbal 
typhoons were not confined to literary discussions 
and the dinner table. I was once playing croquet 
with Lytton, Marjorie, and James when I stayed with 
them in a house near Bedford and a dispute broke 
out among the three Stracheys over some point in the 
game. I stood aside waiting until the storm should 
subside. The noise was terrific. The back of the 
house, which was, I think, early Georgian, looked 
down with its, say, eighteen windows upon the lawn 
where we were playing. By chance I looked up at the 
house and was delighted to see a Strachey face at each 
of the eighteen windows watching the three furious 
gesticulating figures and listening, I think apprecia- 
tively, to the noise and excitement. 

In my family we were very energetic and, in a mild 
way, adventurous. I have always liked to do some- 
thing new or experimental, and my brother Herbert 
and I thought nothing of setting off on our bicycles 
at short notice to ride from Putney to Edinburgh or 
of deciding on a bicycle tour in the Shetlands. Lytton 
was by our standards very unadventurous, but when 
I stayed with him in the house near Bedford it struck 
me that it would be amusing to hire a canoe at Bed- 
ford and canoe down the Ouse to Ely where the Cam 
flows into it and then canoe up the Cam to Cam- 
bridge. I induced Lytton, with some difficulty, to 
agree to do this with me. I reckoned to take about 

Cambridge • 20 p 

four or five days for the whole expedition. We set off 
in brilliant, hot, sunny August weather. The Ouse 
was amazingly beautiful. There was some legal dis- 
pute over navigation which had gone on for years, 
and for years all the locks on the river were closed to 
boats or barges. The river was entirely deserted ex- 
cept for our canoe and innumerable birds. It seemed 
to be very high, the water almost topping the banks. 
One paddled or floated down an immense, lovely, in- 
terminable tunnel of blue water, feathery reeds and 
meadowsweet, bright green fields and bright blue 
sky, accompanied by an unending escort of flashing 
kingfishers. In one respect it was a pretty strenuous 
expedition, since, the locks being closed, every now 
and again, when one came to a lock, one had to lift 
the canoe out of the water and carry it round to float 
it again below the lock. In the evening we tied up 
and found an inn to stay the night in and it was all 
extremely pleasant. But the second day it started to 
rain, heavily and pitilessly, and at Huntingdon, I 
think, we abandoned the canoe and took a car to 
Peterborough, where we stayed the night. Next 
morning it was still raining and dejectedly we re- 
turned to Bedford by train. 

I stayed up for five years at Trinity. I had come up 
with a vague intention of eventually becoming a bar- 
rister, having as a small child announced that I 
would be what Papa was and drive every morning in 
a brougham to King's Bench Walk. But it was not 
long before I changed my mind and decided to go 
into the Civil Service, expecting as a scholar of 
Trinity to be high enough up in the examination to 

2IO • Sowing 

get a place in the Home Civil Service. Meanwhile, as 
a classical scholar I had to take the Classical Tripos. 
In my day you got your B.A. degree on the Classical 
Tripos, Part I, and to take Part II was a luxury usu- 
ally indulged in only by those who thought they 
might subsequently get a Fellowship. In my third 
year I got a First Class in the Tripos, but in the third 
division, which disappointed the authorities, so the 
Master, the great Dr. Montagu Butler, wrote to me, 
since they thought I should have been placed in the 
first division. I decided that I would spend my fourth 
year reading for Part II of the Classical Tripos, 
Greek philosophy. I did even worse in that than in 
Part I, for I only got a Second Class. I spent my fifth 
year reading for the Civil Service examination. This 
was a great mistake. For the Civil Service you needed 
to be crammed in as many subjects as possible besides 
your main subject (in my case, classics). In twelve 
months you crammed into your head as much as pos- 
sible of subjects called, for instance, political econ- 
omy, political science, logic. The university ^vas ill- 
equipped for cramming and one really ought to have 
gone down and delivered oneself into the hands of a 
London crammer who knew how to treat the human 
brain like the goose who is to become pate de foie 

Compared with most scholars I did little work at 
Cambridge, if work means going to lectures, reading, 
and stuffing your head with what will give you a high 
place in an examination. I hate lectures, and, as at 
Trinity the authorities did not insist upon scholars 
attending them punctiliously, I went to few. I read 

Cambridge • 211 

voraciously both in Greek and Latin and in English 
and French, but it was not the kind of diet which 
wins you very high marks in an examination. I am 
quite good at exams, but the truth is that I was a 
really first-class classical scholar when I came up from 
St. Paul's to Trinity, but nothing like as good when 
I took Part I of the Classical Tripos. When I took the 
Civil Service examination, I could read Greek and 
Latin fluently, as I still can, but I had forgotten all 
the paraphernalia of syntax and writing Greek and 
Latin compositions. The result was that I got poor 
marks in the classical papers in which I should have 
amassed most of my marks and so did extremely 
badly. The best that I could hope for was a place in 
the Post Office or Inland Revenue. I was over age for 
India. I felt that I could not face a lifetime to be spent 
in Somerset House or in the Post Office, so I decided 
to take an appointment in the Colonial Service, then 
called Eastern Cadetships. I applied for Ceylon, 
which was the senior Crown Colony, and I was high 
enough up on the list to get what I asked for. I found 
myself to my astonishment and, it must be admitted, 
dismay in the Ceylon Civil Service. 

Looking back I can see that the dismay was natu- 
ral, but unnecessary. I am glad that I did not go into 
the Home Civil and did go into the Ceylon Civil 
Service. My seven years in Ceylon were good for me, 
and, though they gave me a good deal of pain, they 
gave me also a good deal of pleasure— and a great deal 
of pleasure as a memory of things past. But I am glad 
too that I lived the kind of life at Trinity which was 
mainly the reason why I did not do well in tlie ex- 

212 • Sowing 

aminations. It was, I think, a civilized life both intel- 
lectually and emotionally. My intellect was kept at 
full stretch, which is very good for the young, by 
books and the way I read them and by friends and 
their incessant and uncompromising conversation. 
The emotion came from friendship and friends, but 
also from the place, the material and spiritual place, 
Trinity and Cambridge. I must try, before I end this 
chapter and this period of my life, to say something 
of the effect of the institution, the college and the 
university with the surrounding aura of the town and 
the country, an effect partly of place and partly of his- 
tory and spirit. 

The attitude of a person to the institutions, collec- 
tivities, groups, herds, or packs with which he is or 
has been associated throws considerable light upon 
his character and upon the hidden parts of it. Biog- 
raphers and autobiographers, as a rule, say little 
about it and many people are reticent about their 
"loyalties" other than that which Johnson signifi- 
cantly described as the last refuge of a scoundrel. (I 
propose to use the word loyalty to cover a person's 
emotions or reactions of a positive and appreciative 
nature to any group or institution.) When I try to 
look objectively into my own mind, I detect feelings 
of loyalty to: my family; "race" (Jews); my country, 
England in particular, and the British Empire gener- 
ally; places with which I have been connected, such 
as Kensington and London (born and bred), counties, 
Middlesex and Sussex, where I have lived, Ceylon, 
Greece; school; Trinity and Cambridge. Some of the 
evidence for the existence of these loyalties is curious, 

Cambridge • 2/3 

but unmistakable. For instance, in the case of St. 
Paul's, Cambridge University, England, and the Brit- 
ish Empire, if they win in any game or sport, I get 
distinct pleasure, and pain if they lose. I also want 
Sussex and Middlesex to win in county cricket, but 
here for some more complicated reasons I also want 
Yorkshire and Gloucestershire to win, and there is a 
conflict of loyalties. 

The quality of these loyalties differs profoundly in 
the different cases. In the case of places like London, 
England, Sussex, Ceylon, I love them for their mate- 
rial beauties or excellences, but also for spiritual 
qualities, memories, traditions, history. Still more sig- 
nificant is the fact that in some cases, particularly 
family, race, and school, my feelings are ambivalent. 
The first wounds to one's heart, soul, and mind are 
caused in and by the family, and deep down uncon- 
sciously one never forgets or forgives them. One loves 
and hates one's family just as— one knows and they 
know— one is loved and hated by them. Most people 
are both proud and ashamed of their families, and 
nearly all Jews are both proud and ashamed of being 
Jews. There is therefore always a bitterness and am- 
bivalence in these loyalties. My feelings towards St. 
Paul's School are ambivalent, but in a different way. 
I hated its physical ugliness, its philistinism, the slow, 
low torture of boredom that crept over one as one sat 
hour after hour in the stuffy class-room listening to 
the bored voice of the bored master. I still hate it, 
and yet I have at the same time affection for and 
pride in it. I get irrational pleasure from the knowl- 
edge that I was taught in a school which has now ex- 

214 ' lowing 

isted for 450 years and that it was connected with 
Erasmus. I like to think that I went to the same 
school as Milton, Marlborough, and Pepys. I do not 
feel the same towards another Old Pauline, Field- 
Marshal Lord Montgomery, as I would if I had been 
to Eton or Croydon Secondary Modern School; I 
wish I thought him as great a general as he thinks 
himself, and, quite irrationally, I feel personal regret 
that he says such silly things. 

My loyalty to Trinity and Cambridge is different 
from all my other loyalties. It is more intimate, pro- 
found, unalloyed. It is compounded of the spiritual, 
intellectual, and physical inextricably mixed— the 
beauty of the colleges and Backs; the atmosphere of 
long years of history and great traditions and famous 
names; a profoundly civilized life; friendship and the 
Society. Soon after I went to Ceylon, Desmond Mac- 
Carthy wrote me a long letter in which among other 
things he described how he had been up to Trinity to 
the great annual feast, Commem. I will quote what 
he says, because I think it gives an extraordinarily 
keen taste of Trinity College and why, even in its 
most absurd moments, it meant something to Des- 
mond and to all of us. The letter is dated March 23, 

I have only been up to Cambridge twice since I saw 
you. Once for Commem: I was McTaggart's guest, and I 
stayed with him. I didn't enjoy the dinner very much— I 
overate and overdrank to meet his sense of the occasion. 
We didn't have very good talk. I relish his wit; but he 
doesn't enjoy my jokes, at least I feel he doesn't, so I cant 
make them. The scene was just what you remember, 

Cambridge • 21^ 

neither very easy nor dignified— and yet it made a claim on 
one's feelings, as standing for something. "The college" 
"Trinity"— do these words mean much to you? They do 
mean something to me. Yet there are several things which 
mean so much more that I find it hard sometimes to be- 
lieve that I have any esprit de corps— (corps d'esprit an 
old horse dealer, with an excellent French accent, called 
it as I travelled up in the train). Then the Master got up, 
holding his glass of wine in both hands and swaying 
solemnly from side to side in a way that in itself was a 
benediction, proposed the guests in a speech of admirable 
blandness and effortlessness and nothingness and as I 
listened I felt the glamour of success. How fine it is that 
the college should send out men who become ministers 
and judges and bishops and how very gratifying it would 
be to come down as the bigwig of the evening and make a 
most splendid speech in reply— all this sublimated by the 
rosy mist of port. And I looked down the table and 
caught sight of the Davieses* their faces set in deep dis- 

Then McT and Theodore and I went to the reception 
at the Lodge. The Master stood at the top of the stairs 
and welcomed us— received us, wrapped us round with 
romantic ceremonial hospitality. He was the Master of 
Trinity— the leaders of their generations were there— I 
was a brilliant young man— it was an Occasion. 

Then we went to Jackson'sf at home. You know the 
scene— clouds of tobacco smoke, a roar of conversation- 
dozens of whist tables with lighted candles on each— clay 
pipes— boxes of cigars, a piano and someone singing God 

* Theodore Llewelyn Davies in the Treasury, and his brother 
Crompton, a solicitor. They were both very good-looking and 
charming, brilliant intellectually, high-principled, austere. 

t Henry Jackson, O.M. Regius Professor of Greek and one of the 
senior Fellows of Trinity, a great scholar and a great character. 

2i6 • Sowing 

knows what— the tune coming in gusts as through an 
opening and shutting door above the babel of voices. 
Then songs with choruses— school songs, the various rep- 
resentatives of different schools gathering round the piano 
in turn and shouting with defiant patriotism— then music 
hall songs— imagine Parry on a sofa in the window, sing- 
ing and enjoying the fun of the thing— "Oh my darling, 
oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine"— Then came 
the event of the evening for me. I got on the sofa with 
Strachey and had a good talk. First about the people in 
the room— beginning with the sour-faced Montague,* 
standing a little way off, whom I wish always to take 
gently above the elbow and inform that he is not another 
Dizzy. We talked for a long time about the Society, an- 
gels, brothers, and embryos— and felt as tho' we were get- 
ting things clear— at least I did— and we agreed. 

To stay up at Cambridge for a fifth year, as Saxon 
and I did, is a curious experience, a little melancholy, 
though the gentle melancholy was not unpleasant. It 
was a kind of twilight existence, a respite, a waiting 
for the business of life to begin. Practically everyone 
of one's own year had gone down, and though I saw 
more and more of Moore and Maynard Keynes, it 
was often a solitary life. I came up for six weeks in 
the "long vacation" and what was still more solitary, 
for only a very few people did that. In some ways, one 
felt Cambridge, the essence of Cambridoe, more inti- 
mately in the deserted courts than in term time. I 
came up ostensibly to read for my exam and I sup- 
pose that I did do a certain amount of work. It was a 
hot summer and the long summer days passed slowly 

* Edwin Montagu, later Secretary of State for India in Lloyd 
George's 1916 Coalition Government. 

Cambridge • 2/7 

away. There was a strange man called Barwell whom I 
knew and who also was up "for the long." He was 
said to be a descendant of that Richard Barwell, 
member of council in India, who supported Warren 
Hastings against Philip Francis. Philip Francis said 
of Richard Barwell that "he is rapacious without in- 
dustry, and ambitious without an exertion of his fac- 
ulties or steady application to affairs. He will do 
whatever can be done by bribery and intrigue; he has 
no other resource." But Warren Hastings said of him 
that "his manners are easy and pleasant." His de- 
scendant, the Barwell whom I knew, seemed to have 
inherited the qualities which Hastings saw in his 
ancestor, and I never detected any sign of the sinister 
characteristics which P>ancis describes. He was a 
good deal older than I and had gone down from 
Trinity before I came up. But he was quite often 
about the place, and his manners were indeed easy 
and pleasant. He was what is called a man of the 
world, almost the first of that curious human species 
whom I got to know fairly well. I could never be and 
never shall be, I know well, a man of the world, and 
I rather despise them with at the same time a sneak- 
ing envy of them— but I often get on quite ^vell with 
them. I got on quite well with Barwell. He liked 
good food, good wine, and good conversation. He 
used to take me, an Irish baronet whose name I no 
longer remember, and a B.A. called Maclaren, in a 
punt up the river, and there we tied up under the 
willows and ate chicken, drank Burgundy, and talked 
through the long summer evenings like scholars and 

2i8 • Sowing 

men of the world. And as darkness fell we punted 
slowly and silently back to Trinity. 

Slowly the days and weeks passed away, and the 
Civil Service examination was on us in one of the 
hottest of London summers. The torture was pro- 
longed, for the exam went on for about three weeks. 
I remember coming out into the blazing sunshine in 
Burlington Street with Saxon quite often to find 
Thoby Stephen waiting for us so that we could lunch 
together, and then back again into the examination 
room in Burlington House to answer or not answer 
absurd questions about Logic, or Political Science, or 
Political Economy. 

But even a Civil Service exam ends at last, and on 
August 29, 1904, I set out with Maynard Keynes on 
a walking tour from Denbigh. We walked with knap- 
sacks on our backs from Denbigh through Bettws-y- 
Coed, Beddgelert, and Pwllheli to Aberdaron. There 
we stayed for a few days with Charlie* and Dora 
Sanger. Then we walked to and climbed Snowdon, 
ending our tour finally at Carnarvon. Maynard was 
an extraordinarily good companion and even in those 
days had a passion for gambling, which I shared. We 
talked all day and in the evening did what we could 

* Charles Percy Sanger was a remarkable man. He was an Apostle, 
but a good deal older than I, He did brilliantly at Trinity and then 
became a barrister and was at the top of his profession as a con- 
veyancer. He was a gnomelike man with the brightest eyes I have 
ever seen and the character of a saint, but he was a very amusing, 
ribald, completely sceptical saint with a first-class mind and an 
extremely witty tongue, a mixture which I never came across in any 
other human being. He wrote a very interesting pamphlet about 
Emily Bronte, which I published in the Hogarth Press, The Struc- 
ture of Wuthering Heights. 

Cambridge • 21 p 

to satisfy our gambling passion by playing bezique. 
Maynard kept the score, and I remember him work- 
ing out the result in the train on our way back to 
London, the result being that I won a few shillings 
off him. 

The result of the exam was a considerable shock, 
but somehow or other I had learnt very early in life 
not to worry about things, to make up my mind 
quickly, and not to waste one's energies and emotions 
in regrets. I saw at once that I was not going to sit in 
Somerset House for the rest of my life and that there- 
fore I must go to Ceylon. The next few weeks, until 
I finally walked up the gangway of the P. and O. 
Syria at Tilbury, passed away quickly in the atmos- 
phere of a kaleidoscopic dream. I bought tropical 
suits and a topi at the Army and Navy Stores; I 
took riding lessons in the Knightsbridge Barracks, a 
terrifying procedure, and in Richmond Park, which 
was a pleasant antidote. I passed my medical exami- 
nation at any rate triumphantly, for the doctor com- 
plimented me on having the cleanest feet of anyone 
he had examined that morning— "though," he added, 
**I am bound to say that that is not saying very 
much." I travelled up to Stonehaven near Aberdeen 
and spent a night with my brother Harold on a farm 
where he was learning agriculture. I spent a night 
with Moore in Edinburgh. I went through ceremo- 
nies of farewell with Desmond, ^vho oave me the Ox- 
ford Press miniature edition of Shakespeare and Mil- 
ton in four volumes which have accompanied me 
everywhere ever since, with Morgan Forster, Lytton, 
and Saxon. I had a farewell dinner with Thoby 

220 * Sowing 

Stephen and his sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, in Gor- 
don Square. I felt just as I did when as a small boy at 
school in Brighton I stood in Brill's Baths and looked 
down at the water so far below and nerved myself for 
the high dive. I got ready everything which I was to 
take with me to Ceylon, which included ninety large 
volumes of the beautiful eighteenth-century edition 
of Voltaire printed in the Baskerville type and a wire- 
haired fox-terrier. At last I dived; the waters closed 
over me; I took the train to Tilbury Docks. 


Ainsworth, A. R., 143, 153, 

154. 186 
Alexander, F. M., 114-115 
Apostles, The, 142-144, 145, 

157, 164-165, 171, 216 

Bell, Clive, 109, 132, 140-142, 

182, 186 
Bentley, E. C, 100 
Bloomsbury, 170 
Burman, Robert, 70-75, 97-98 
Butler, H. Montagu, 210, 215 
Butler, Samuel, 166, 181 

Davies, Theodore Llewelyn, 

157' 215 
Dreyfus Case, 166-167, 176- 

Education, 58-59, 72, 79-82 
Eliot, T. S., 57 

Fletcher, Sir W. M., 123-126 
Floyd, Mr. (tutor), 66-70 
Forster, E. M., 186-188, 219 
Fry, Roger, 122, 142 

Campbell, L. C. H. D., 190, 

Ceylon Civil Service, 211, 219- 

Chesterton, Cecil, 100-102 
Chesterton, G. K., 100-102 
Cook, A. M., 99-100 

Davies, Crompton Llewelyn, 


Garnett, David, 169 
Gaye, R. K., 123-126 
Grant, Duncan, 118, 169, 207 
Gray, H. T., 190-191 

Hardy, Professor G. H., 123- 

Hardy, Thomas, 161, 181-182 
Hawtrey, R. G. (later Sir), 

143, 186 
Hobhouse, Mrs. Henry, 51 

Ibsen, H., 177-179 
Intellectuals, 72, 95-99, 137, 

Jackson, Henry, 215 

James, Henry, 119-123, 127, 

Jongh, Henrietta de (grand- 
mother of author), 20-22 

Jongh, Nathan de (grand- 
father of author), 18-23 

Judges, faces of, 112 

Keynes, John Maynard (later 
Lord Keynes), 142, 143, 156, 
158-161, 169-176, 186, 216, 

Law, A. R., 190, 191-193 
Lawrence, D. H., 169-170, 182 
London in 19th century, 61- 

MacCarthy, Desmond, 153, 

155' 156-157' 186, 188-190, 

214-216, 219 
McTaggart, J. E., i45-i47' 

Marsh, Sir Edward, 156 
Mayor, Robin, 157 
Meredith, George, 181 
Money, effect of, 41-42, 90-92 
Montagu, Edwin, 216 
Montgomery, Lord, 214 
Moore, G. E., 78, 127, 144- 

164, 169-171, 186, 188, 216, 

Moore, Thomas Sturge, 153 

222 • Sowing 
Oldershaw, R. F., 100 

Paul, Saint, 56 
Prayer, 47-54 

Religion, 14, 46-57 
Russell, Bertrand (Earl Rus- 
sell), 145-148, 151, 169 

Sanger, C. P., 157, 218 

Sex, 72-73, 88-90 

Shaw, George Bernard, 114, 

166, 177-180 
Sheppard, J. T. (later Sir), 

143, 186 
Sidgwick, Henry, 142-143, 164 
Sin, sense of, 18, 23-25, 29 
Stephen, Adrian, 120 
Stephen, J. T. (Thoby), 109, 

127, 132, 136-142, 172, 174, 

182, 186, 196, 218, 219-220 
Stephen, Julia (Mrs. Leslie), 

Stephen, Katherine, 199 
Stephen, Sir Leslie, 120, 137, 

196-199, 201 
Stephen, Vanessa (later Mrs. 

Clive Bell), 120, 199-202, 

Stephen, Virginia (later wife 

of author), 42, 78, 120, 122, 

199-202, 220 
Strachey, Lady, 205-207 
Strachey, Lytton, 109, 119, 

121, 127, 128, 129, 132-136, 

140, 142, 146, 150, 153, 156, 

157, 165, 171, 172, 174, 182, 

Index • 22) 

186, 187, 196, 202-209, 216, 

Strachey, Philippa, 204, 206, 

Strachey, Sir Richard, 204- 

Swinburne, A. C, 40, 166, 

Sydney-Turner, Saxon, 116- 

122, 127-132, 171, 174, 182, 

186, 218, 219 

Trevelyan, G. M., 163 
Trevelyan, R. C, 157 

Vicary, Nurse, 59-61 
Victorianism, revolt against, 

165-169, 175-184 
Vivian, Sir S. P., 100 

Walker, F. W., 80-85 
Walker, Richard, 85 
Walpole, Sir Hugh, 121 
Waterlow, Sir Sydney, 120-122 
Watts-Dunton, T., 185-186 
Webb, Beatrice, 51-55, 144 
Webb, Sidney, 52-55, 144 
Wedgwood, Sir Ralph, 156 
Wells, H. G., 166 
Whitehead, A. N., 95, 145, 

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 167 
Woolf, Benjamin (grand- 
father of author), 15-17 
Woolf, Herbert (brother of 
autlior), 37-38, 70, 73, 93-94 

Woolf, Isabella (grandmother 
of author), 17 

Woolf, Leonard: birth, 13; 
genes and chromosomes, 15; 
disgraces himself, 23; ill- 
ness, 26-28; economic ca- 
tastrophe, 38-42; cosmic 
unhappiness, 43-46; loses 
religious faith, 46-50; at 
kindergarten school, 58; 
early education, 64-65; at 
St. Paul's Preparatory 
School, 65-66; taught by 
Mr. Floyd, 66-70; at Ar- 
lington House, Brighton, 
70-77; at St. Paul's School, 
77-103; facade, 78-79; pas- 
age from boyhood to man- 
hood, 86-88; games and 
bicycling, 93-94; seriousness, 
94-95; intellectual, 96-100; 
joins a debating society, 
100-102; goes up to Trinity 
College, Cambridge, 107; a 
new boy, 108; expenditure 
at Cambridge, 109; trem- 
bling hands, 110-115; in 
Great Court with Saxon 
Sydney-Turner, 116-120; 
effect of Henry James, 1 19- 
128; friendship with Lytton 
Strachey, 132-136; with 
Thoby Stephen, 136-140; 
with Clive Bell, 140-142; 
and The Apostles, 142-144, 
214; friendship with G. E. 
Moore, 144-164, 171-172; 

22^ • Sowing 

friendship with Maynard 
Keynes, 158-161, 218-219; 
in revolt against Victorian- 
ism, 165-169, 175-184; two 
distinct circles of friends, 
186-196; and the Stephen 
family, 196-202; and the 
Strachey family, 202-208; 
Tripos and Civil Service 
examinations, 209-211; de- 
cides to go into Ceylon 

Civil Service, 211; loyalties, 
212-213; fifth year at Cam- 
bridge, 216; leaves for Cey- 
lon, 220 

Woolf, Marie (mother of 
author), 18-19, 34-39, 44, 
83, 90-91 

Woolf, Sidney (father of 
author), 24, 28-35 

WooUey, Mr., 71-72 

Wright, Dr. Maurice, 113 


Date Due 
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